Three of the four projects mooted by the Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment for the setting up of centres of excellence for scientific research in Kerala have not made much headway.
Here are four projects in frontier areas of scientific research. Of these, one project is almost through and the other three are in limbo. This about sums up the situation regarding the setting up of centres of excellence for scientific research in Kerala - a project accorded high priority by the Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment. It all began when Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy wrote to the Union Minister for Science and Technology on giving a fillip to science and technology research in the state. Pat came the reply that such a scope does indeed exist. Mr. Chandy forwarded this letter to the council setting in motion a process that led to the drawing up of 15 projects from different educational institutions spread across Kerala.
Nod for projects
After several rounds of discussions and following the scrutiny of a committee of experts, four out of these 15 projects were selected for being forwarded to different Union Ministries for their approval and consequent funding. The proposal to set up a Centre for Excellence in Fisheries submitted by the College of Fisheries, Ernakulam was forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture, the proposal for setting up a Centre for Excellence in Taxonomy submitted by the Department of Botany University of Calicut was sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the proposal for a Centre for Excellence in Life Sciences submitted by the Department of Zoology, University of Kerala was forwarded to the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.The proposal for setting up a Centre for Excellence in Geomatics was sent to the Ministry of Science and Technology. Each proposal, according to Council officials, was accompanied by Mr. Chandy's covering letter.
The State Government, the Council and the Department Geology had a pleasant surprise when Union Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal wrote back immediately to say that yes, the idea of a Centre for Geomatics sounded okay and that the wheels can be set in motion for that. That letter catalysed activities at the council, at the department and more importantly at the Centre to such an extent that now the project is on the verge of being okayed by the NRDMS.
Now, the plight of the other three projects is drastically different. Neither has any Union Ministry responded - favourably or otherwise - to the Council nor has any agency in the State initiated any follow-up activity to ascertain the status of these proposals. There are many in the academic community who feel that a letter or a phone call from the Chief Minister's office to the Union minister concerned can produce dramatic results on this front. Academics who spoke to The Hindu-Educationplus stressed that these projects, if they come through, can be beneficial to the State in more ways than one. The Centre for Excellence in Taxonomy, for instance, was pointed out as one proposal that is very much relevant to the State. The academic who initiated the proposal, M. Sivadasan pointed out that there is a shortage of taxonomists the world over. "In Kerala, the Western Ghats is a mega biodiversity centre. As of today, we do not have a full picture of the plant and animal wealth that we have there. A Centre of Excellence in Taxonomy could be just the platform that will generate research and academic activities on this front," he explained. Mr. Sivadasan is also the chair on taxonomy at the University of Calicut.
Lack of initiative
An academic who was associated with the discussions on the centre of excellence projects at the Council said the State's agencies were just not aggressive enough in pursuing projects submitted to central agencies. "In many other States, once a project is submitted to the Centre that State's agencies would literally lay siege to the Ministry/Minister concerned till the project is okayed. We can at least do half as much," he said requesting that his name not be revealed.
Need of the hour
Oommen V. Ommen, Head of the Department of Zoology, University of Kerala, who submitted the project for a Centre for Excellence in Life Sciences said the State urgently needs an official in Delhi who can follow up such proposals with the Ministry concerned. "In fact our university had a plan, some time ago, to appoint a liaison officer in Delhi who would do the administrative spade work for such projects. But nothing came of it. The State Government has officials at the Kerala House. May be they can be authorised to follow up the projects that go from here... " Dr. Oommen said. Till such time as the State agencies, including the office of the Chief Minister (who is the chairman of the State Council for Science Technology and Environment), the council itself and the Universities that submit proposals for central clearance, are more active in following up academic projects submitted to the union government, such Centres of Excellence may well remain firmly on paper.