Are the wheels of socialism coming apart, slowly but surely, from the smoothly rolling gravy train that was our scientific, technological, military, and defence research and development setup?
Once the apogee of individual accomplishment—job security, assured residential quarters, subsidised community facilities like schools and canteen stores, jobs for children on “compassionate grounds” in case of death, etc—are market forces beginning to chip away at the crown jewels of modern India?
# In the last 36 months alone, 392 scientists have left the Indian Space Research Organisation. As against the 354 freshers recruited by last year, 187 trained ones left ISRO. In the previous two years, the number of those leaving the organisation was 105 and 100.
# Over the past five years, 1,000 scientists have left the Defence Research & Development Organisation. In the five years preceding 2002, the number of those leaving DRDO was less than half that figure: 400.
# The Indian military is said to be short of 35,000 personnel, including over 14,000 officers. In the three years upto April 2007, a total of 277 pilots sought premature retirement from the Indian Air Force (IAF), many of them flying away to careers in the burgeoning airline industry.
# Hordes of scientists have been leaving the laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), including the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), in Mysore, and straw polls suggest few children of serving scientists want to follow in their parents’ wake.
The hand-to-mouth funding, the low motivation to perform, the slow career progression, a risk-averse safety-first work environment, and the mind numbing bureaucracy in the government outfits are obviously key reasons why the trickle has become an exodus.
But the key reason for the “Brain Drain Within Bharat” is big bucks.
“The stupendous growth of the IT and communications sector, and the higher remunerative packages offered by the privte sector are the main reasons for scientists/engineers to leave ISRO,” Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
“Everyone is dangling the quit threat if salaries are not hiked substantially.“
The Department of Space (DoS) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have both petitioned the sixth pay commission for higher pay and incentives like performance-based increments and special allowance as one of the measures to stem the attrition.
Sure, it’s not an Indian problem alone. But will the government ever be able to “offer the best in the industry”?
Given the advanced facilities, the global reward and recognition, the greenbacks, and the greater transparency that private labs like, say, General Electric’s Jack F Welch Technology Center in Bangalore offer, will the “State” ever be able to woo the best talent for its antiquated facilities?
Will good talent in a market economy ever be able to put country before self, when the Joneses and Janardhans are making a lot more for a lot less, buying houses, swanky cars, sending their children to fancy schools, and going on expensive holidays abroad?
Or, are our State-funded institutes, organisations, and laboratories destined—doomed—to become rotting repositories of cheap, mediocre talent who couldn’t find a place elsewhere—and who are forever surfing the world wide web looking for openings in places they couldn’t get into but always fantasise?
In picture, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) researchers Sanjukta Roy and Saptarishi Chaudhuri with C.S. Unnikrishnan, who have produced the fifth state of matter for the first time in India.
Read the full story by G.S. Mudur: Bose-Einstein feat in India
Also read: The lure of the almighty engineering dollar
The exodus is not merely for salaries. A scientist with a DRDO may not get a salary comparable to an MNC. But benefits like cheap housing in quarters located either within campus or close to campus, canteen store facilities and education for kids in central school, all put together gives them a reasonable lifestyle. Compare it to an MNC employee who commutes an hour and a half a day to work, blows up 15k on commute and chauffeur, pays a bomb for his kid’s education in a private school. He’s not a lot better off than his counterpart at a government lab. The problem with Indian scientific establishment has always been that of leadership and vision. Take the LCA project for instance- We’ve been hearing about it for more than twenty years now and it is still far from being ready for mass manufacture or deployment. Or how about that project by the Kerala based ER&DC who wanted to produce design cheap commercial microprocessors? By the time they came out with prototypes of two chips that were equivalent in processing power to 8088 and 80286, people were transitioning from 486 DX to Pentium. Or what about the Param general purpose parallel processor from C-DAC? Ever heard of a place where it is being used or was ever used by anybody for some constructive research? Even the vision at ISRO hasn’t been too great. Between launching technology and satellite design, the latter is easier. Launching technologies take longer to perfect. It’s obvious that someone wanted to show results the easy way and concentrated more on satellite design than launching technologies.
Good scientists want to do sensible research and not get caught up in internal politics or end up working on things they know will not get them far. That’s historically been the reason why good techies have left our scientific institutions. Earlier they used to move to universities abroad and then to the industry. Now the opportunities are right next door.
Absolutely hit the nail on the head. To believe that we can still perform research “Soviet style” and keep up with the latest technological breakthroughs made in other countries is quite stupid. Even the Soviets managed to develop some pretty good military hardware, which we have miserably failed in doing. There’s also absolutely no accountability in any of these “research bodies” which have been a tax payer black hole for at least a couple of decades now.
DRDO, ISRO, HAL, DAE, BARC et al have not been that successful by any means. To some extent, they have served as employment agencies for people who while brilliant, do not seem to have achieved all that much in a collective sense. This is espeically for DRDO/ISRO. Indian Express series on them was the first time I have seen sustained criticism of our otherwise rather pompous, self-important scientists. It helps that the man in the street can see and feel the inefficeincy of the BBMP, MUDA, BDA at first hand but DRDO et al are too far away to see or get any idea of. It does not affect him (or so he thinks). Of course, the m.i.s. also may not really understand the science of it all and hence remain in awe. I cannot imagine for instance, the kind of anger we see about other government agencies ever coming out in public about our scientific organisations.
OTH, why should it come out anyway?
Prithviraj Chavan, not Chauhan. Kind of like calling Mr. S. Venkatesh Thiru S. Venkatesan. I see peope making this mistake all the times. It’s minor but irritating all the same.
Take the LCA project for instance- We’ve been hearing about it for more than twenty years now and it is still far from being ready for mass manufacture or deployment. The LCA project has taken about the same amount of time that it takes to design a new combat aircraft in countries with a well established aicraft industry and for about a third as much investment. Make it a point to read the Bharat-Rakshak papers rather than uninformed gibberish in rags like The Telegraph and Outlook.
How about freeing the scietific establishment from the clutches of the Pay Commission? How about explring more public-private partnership so that dotards like Arjun Singh and otehr medicrities get to kep their hands off? A consortium formed by BHEL, L&T, GTRE, and TCE may help us jump ahead with the development of the Kaveri jet engine. Remember it took SNECMA of France over 20 years to design its first jet engine and that too in collaboration with GE. Knowhow like that isn’t to be had for love or money, and GTRE tried to design a flat-rated non-afterburning engine in a country that hadn’t yet managed to design its first 60cc petrol engine.
For now the software houses make money off outsourcing and they see it as the safest way for themselves and their shareholders. The easiest way is to leverage on the cheap and abundant labour to generate profits. Who knows – some people who work at these places may break away to truely innovate at technology. Many of the smart ones (say IIT btechs in CS or Electronics) who used to migrate en masse before are staying back. While the MNCs/outsourcing shops may be having a depressing effect on small product start ups – they may be unknowingly incubating innovators within (after all sometimes innovation comes from frustration). That way these companies are in a way complementing the old state driven technology sectors. Its upto the ageing public sector units to start aligning with the new order.
On the sciences and research – it has to be driven by the state, an MNC running a unit in say Bangalore would protect anything done at their premises while a local giant IT house would be least interested and incapable of getting into basic research. It has to be done at the universities and a whole system of state funding which encourages competition and rewards excellence to the point of brutal elimination, which is easy in India with its the talent and numbers (the IIT/IIM entrance system etc.).
As long as duffers and wreckers like Arjun Singh and Anbumani remain at the helm no University win India will ever produce any decent research. See what the DMK did to Madras University after they took over TN in 1069. They drove out most of the leading scientists of the day, notably GN Ramachandran, simply because he didn’t belong to the right caste.
Ha! Ha!, how can we compare a MNC with DRDO/DAE/DOS employee. MNC employee is a slave in hand of MNC. Govt. Employees serve with little for the nation. Greedy MNC employees run towards MNC for greener paustuers. These Govt. Employess in (SCIENTIST COMUNITY) are the least corrupt lot. Least Paid lot, but they work for the job satisfaction. They are much more capable than the MNC counterparts. MNC work on the topic given to them by someone sitting in US. Our SCIENTIST work on topic they decide. Missile, Chandrayan, pokharan etc. don’t come from MNCs. Name a product that any MNC has developed as Indian Product.