CSIR lab bars scientists from participating in March for Science

Notice issued as part of a safety measure, says director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.

August 09, 2017 09:58 pm | Updated 09:59 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A sculpture representing the human cell at the entrance of the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi. File

A sculpture representing the human cell at the entrance of the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi. File

Even as scientists across the country participated in a ‘March for Science’ to demand greater budgets for research and curbs on “pseudo science,” researchers from a prominent CSIR lab here were explicitly warned by its director from participating in it.

Multiple scientists at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), a prominent CSIR lab here, told The Hindu that they were keen on going but didn’t join because of a gag order. The Hindu saw an email sent out by IGIB director Sanjay Kumar to all scientists.

Mr. Kumar told The Hindu that the scientists were barred from going because participation posed a potential security risk. “We don’t know the size of the mob involved…when government scientists are part of such a demonstration it could lead to problems. So this notice was issued as part of a safety measure,” he added.

The CSIR, a chain of 39 laboratories across the country and government-funded, is grappling a severe fund crunch. Even though its annual ₹4,000 crore budget hasn’t been cut, it has barely ₹360 crores — as opposed to a typical ₹1200 crore — this year to fund research programmes and scientific staff have been asked to aggressively scout externally for funds. This has led to several programmes, including at IGIB, being scrapped for want of funds. The CSIR, as a whole, didn’t issue instructions desisting scientists from participating in the march.

The India March for Science, according to Vinay Kumar, a mathematics professor at Delhi University, saw about “400 scientists” participate in Delhi on Wednesday. It was organised by a group called Break-Through India and was being planned for over a month. Participants demanded, among other things, that India allot at least 3% of GDP to scientific and technological research (India now spends about 0.9%) and to stop propagation of “unscientific, obscurantist ideas and religious intolerance, and develop scientific temper, human values and spirit of enquiry in conformance with Article 51A of the Constitution.”

The March for Science in India drew inspiration from similar protests in the United States in April to contest certain policies of the Trump administration. India’s Science and Technology Ministry — apart from funding conventional research — has been asked to consider funding “research” into the therapeutic value of cow urine and cow dung as part of a programme at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Vijnana Bharti — a Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh-linked association of scientists —condemned the March for Science. “We feel that this march is politically motivated, Left-oriented and anti-government,” secretary general A. Jaykumar said in a statement.

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