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Not mixing up astronomy with astrology, says Joshi

KHARAGPUR, AUG.18.The Union minister for Human Resource and Development, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, today stressed his government's commitment to pursue astronomical research in India.

Inaugurating the golden jubilee of the Indian Institute of Technology,Kharagpur, on the Institute's campus, 150 km from Kolkata, the Minister said the Centre recently set up a telescope at the highest altitude in the world at Ladakh at Rs. 40 crores.

``We are planning to spend Rs. 300 crore to create modern facilities for astronomical research shortly. A substantial part of the money will be spent to put up the second telescope at Ladakh'', he said.

Dr. Joshi's remarks came in reply to the sharp criticism of the Centre's policies by the West Bengal Chief Minister and the guest of honour of today's ceremony, Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Though he spoke largely on the broader issues related to scientific research and development and how it changed the course of human civilisation in the past, the Chief Minister was sarcastic about the Centre's recent decision to include astrology in university curriculum. ``The current move to treat astrology on par with astronomy is misdirected. It signals a confrontation between science and obscurantism''.

Avoiding further controversy and confrontation, Mr. Joshi restricted his speech to the ``rich history'' of scientific research developments in ancient India, the shape it was taking in Independent India and his government's commitment to make it world standard. ``We are not mixing up astronomy with astrology,'' he retorted.

While underlining the contribution of the IIT system in raising the standard of technical education and creating the highest quality technical manpower, Dr. Joshi reminded that a lot had to be done especially in the fields of research and development. ``The IITs are generally failing to attract their own undergraduate students into post-graduate studies and research'', he said and added that a proposal from his ministry to offer post-doctoral fellowships worth Rs.10,000 per month was currently awaiting governmsnt's approval. He had also suggested scaling up of the operations of IITs to the standards of the best technical universities in the world.

Though he appreciated that the Kharagpur IIT had the distinction of being not only the oldest (set up in 1951) but also the largest among all the IITs today with diversified activities and having ``the most distinguished alumni'', Dr. Joshi, however, was silent on the plea of the institute director, Mr. Amitabha Ghosh, for the release of ``special (financial) support for the golden jubilee year'' and concurrence of the government in offering scholarship and financial support to attract young talents from all over the world as in the US.

This institute had pioneered the merger of the study of physical science with the life science through such multidisciplinary programmes as that on medical science and technology, Mr. Ghosh said and added that though the IIT Kharagpur has given ``maximum service'' to the nation ``it has never received any special financial support from the Union Government'' or from abroad.

Stressing that the institute was making a constant endeavor to raise its standards in research and development, Mr. Ghosh said that last year the faculty of IIT Kharagpur had received over 230 Indian and foreign research and consultancy projects worth Rs. 25 crore. ``They have filed the highest number of patents (about 127) and transferred more technologies than the faculty of any other similar institute''.

The institute's VLSI design laboratory with capability to fabricate 0.18 micron VLSI chips had recently received a letter of approval from the Vikram Sarabhai Space Research Centre for use of its designs in space vehicles and launchers.

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