A history of bias

The background:

On September 2005, the Indian Prime Minister had released India Science Report (pdf:: 3MB) that found science education to be in a state of disarray in India:

Confirming long-standing apprehensions among science analysts, the first India Science Report has detected flaws in teaching, high unemployment, and regional imbalances at a time of growth in science education.

The Telegraph – Calcutta : Frontpage

Probably this was one of the major reasons behind the decision to set up IISER — Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research. The IISER will have integrated programmes, that would help tap students right from undergraduate level, to channelize them towards pure science. For the uninitiated, it’s like IIT for pure sciences. A really good step in my opinion.

The controversy:

The hunt for locations had started much before this report was released. The Universities Grants Commission (UGC) had recommended Allahabad, Bhubaneswar, Pune and Chennai.

Four national-level institutes are also being established at Bhubaneshwar, Chennai, Pune and Allahabad.

PIB Press Releases

However, the central government, in complete disregard to UGC recommendation, announced that Kolkata and Pune are the locations for setting up two IISER at the total expenditure of Rs 10 billion.

This is the seed of the controversy: Why were the initial recommendations disregarded? Why wasn’t the change of location discussed or debated? Why was Kolkata chosen, when it wasn’t even mentioned in the initial recommendation?

Residents of Bhubaneswar are frustrated over this decision. Glimpses of which can be seen in the following links.

  1. Memorandum to PM for NIS/IISER
  2. iiser.blogspot.com

Dr. Chitta Baral has presented Bhubaneswar’s case quite rationally in his essay. The whole matter is now in court:

The Orissa High Court has passed an interim stay on the reported move of the Centre to shift the proposed National Institute of Science (NIS) from Bhubaneswar to Kolkata.

Economy & Policy

My thoughts:

I grew up in Bhubaneswar — did my schooling and college there. However I’d try not to be overly biased while discussing this issue. In the eastern region, Bhubaneswar has emerged as the favorite destination for IT enabled services. Companies like Infosys have established large sprawling campuses in the city. Now if I may ask, why wasn’t Kolkata preferred? The answer is simple: Bhubaneswar is relatively newer; it is not clogged by traffic; it has a modern airport; and last but not the least, it is not plagued by eternal bandhs by red flag bearing communists. Moreover it has the ability to expand to accommodate rapid growth and immigration. This might come as a surprise when you realize that neither the city, nor the state, have a single national level educational institute. If the private sector, which is more or less isolated from political game play, finds Bhubaneswar more attractive, why not the Central administration? Well, the answer is not hard to guess: It’s the communists at the Centre. This bias is not new to Bhubaneswar: It was a contender for the first IIT, only to lose it to Kharagpur(WB). However I am not going to elaborate on the politics — that would take more than 10 posts as long as this.

Let’s try to ponder over a greater question. Why should the location of the institutes matter? After all science has no boundaries. In Anton Chekhov’s words:

There is no national science just as there is no national multiplication table; what is national is no longer science.

True, scientific knowledge has no boundaries, but research institutes are not just about the knowledge they generate. They have associated benefits that trickle down to the local population as well: These institutes employ local population for services. They organize seminars and conferences, that helps the hotel and tourism industry. Their professors give guest lectures at schools and inspire kids (ignite young minds in Kalam’s words). Their students form scientific clubs, where the local kids could participate. The list goes on. Location does matter after all.

I’m not sure if Bhubaneswar is going to win this battle. But given the history of bias against the city, and the state, it’s high time the central administration rises above petty politics and gives the city it’s due share.

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