Friday, September 27, 2013

Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Awards 2013

This year (2013) eight scientists have been selected for the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Awards for Science & Technology. Awards were announced during CSIR’s 71st foundation day.

Biological Science
1. Dr Sathees Chukkurumbal Raghavan, Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry, IISc, Bangalore.
Research Areas: Cancer Genetics, Genomic instability, DNA repair and recombination

Chemcial Sciences
1. Dr Yamuna Krishnan, Reader, National Centre for Biological Sciences, (TIFR) UAS-GKVK, Bangalore.
Research Areas: Structure and Dynamics of Nucleic Acids.

Earth, Atmosphere, Ocean & Planetary Sciences
No Award in this category.

Engineering Sciences
1. Dr Bikramjit Basu, Materials Research Centre, IISc, Bangalore.
Research Areas: Biomaterials for hard tissue replacement applications, External field assisted cell-biomaterial interaction, Spark Plasma Sintering of Nanoceramics and Nanoceramic composite
2. Dr Suman Chakraborty, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT KGP.
Research Areas: Microfluidics and Nanofluidics, Interfacial Phenomena and Phase Change, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)

Mathematical Sciences
1. Dr Eknath Prabhakar Ghate, Associate Professor, School of Mathematical Sciences, TIFR, Mumbai

Medical Sciences
1. Dr Pushkar Sharma, National Institute of Immunology (NII), New Delhi
Research Areas: Dissection of eukaryotic cell signalling pathways.

Physical Sciences
1. Dr Amol Dighe, Professor, Department of Theoretical Physics, TIFR, Mumbai                                         2. Dr Vijay Balakrishna Shenoy, Department of Physics, IISc, Bangalore.
Research Areas: Physics of strong correlations (High Tc, Manganites,Topological Insulators), Cold quantum gases and optical lattices, Nanoscience with focus on correlation effects in nanosystems


Monday, September 23, 2013

In reply to the article - “Is India’s nuclear arsenal safe?”

Recently, I came across an article in Pakistan Tribune which questions the safety of Indian nuclear program and facilities. More than asking questions, what this article is trying to do is to create an atmosphere of doubt. So I would like to answer the questions posted by the author - “Hasan Ehtisham”.

For reading Hasan Ehtisham’s full article ->

Please see my answers in italics.

It confuses me immensely as to why the mainstream media and Western governments are constantly generating a hype about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal

--- because of many insurgent attacks in key military facilities; some time back Taliban fighters conquered huge parts of Western Pakistan; suspicious nuclear relations of Pakistan with more than three countries; AQ Khan’s proliferation cases and the strong suspicion that he was not acting alone; no ‘not first use’ policy; political chaos etc are enough for neighbours and other countries to have concern about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

they don’t seem concerned at all about the highly startling condition regarding the nuclear capabilities of India. Ever since the India-US nuclear deal has taken place, India has signed civil nuclear deals with more than half a dozen countries. Hence, the most precarious lie is advocated, that India has a strong track record of nuclear safety, to materialise these nuclear deals.

---- India's track record is clean; we have ‘no first use’ policy in place; Indian nuclear command structure is very much straight forward and firmly under the control political leadership. By the way according to reports amount of fissile materials – that can be converted to bombs – by Pakistan is more than that of India.

Electronic media reports lead us believe that India has a strong nuclear non-proliferation track record.

---- Yes, indeed an extremely good track record.

largely ignored history of Indian illegal nuclear procurement, poor nuclear export controls and mismanagement of nuclear facilities. For instance, India diverted Canadian-supplied fuel for research and generating power to make nuclear weapons. But there is more to the nuclear program than meets the unsuspecting eye.

---- what is that ‘more to the nuclear program than meets the unsuspecting eye’? what are that alarming situations?

There are numerous hazardous nuclear installations in India that could lead to a major disaster with extraordinary bearing on the lives of large populations around these facilities. According to an Australian newspaper (The Age), there is no national policy in India on nuclear and radiation safety. Despite all this, India has never made an effort to adopt world standards and best practices for nuclear safety.

----- I think you are yet to read the latest press releases from GoI. We indeed have a structured mechanism for nuclear wastes - recycling, treating with active charcoal. For knowing more about these policies please go through the recent press releases from GoI.

Radioactive waste disposal in Indian rivers is an undocumented environmental tragedy in India.

---- In which river?

There are huge nuclear security issues in India because it is prone to insurgent groups and separatist rebels. According to the Daily Mail’s reports, most of India’s top nuclear facilities are located in exceedingly Naxal terrorist struck districts of India or in the “Red Corridor”. Some of the sensitive nuclear installations situated in this “Red Corridor” are, Uranium Corporation Of India Limited, Talcher Heavy Water Plant, Institute of Physics, Ceramatic Fuel Fabrication Facility, Nuclear Fuel Complex, Seha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Atomic Minerals Directorate and many more.

---- Central East India is rich in natural resources – ores, forests etc. If one wants to mine something, facilities for the same should be located to close to that. This is the case with Uranium Corporation Of India Limited as well. By the way, its HQ at Singhbhum is not a district under the control of Naxals/ Maoists.

I would like to point out some other things as well. ‘Institute of Physics’ is located in Bhubaneswa (capital of Odisha). Even the hard core naxals won't claim that Bhubaneswar is under their control.

Ceramic Fuel Fabrication Facility, Nuclear Fuel Complex etc are located in Hyderabad (capital of Andra Pradesh). I don’t know how you bring this city to red corridor. ‘Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics’ is in Kolkata (one of the biggest cities in India and capital of West Bengal). Atomic Minerals Directorate (aka 'Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research') is head quartered in Hyderabad. None of its 7 regional centres or 2 sectional offices are in Naxal hit areas.

Around 90% of the Red Corridor areas are a ‘No Go Zones’ for the Indian troops and Air Force. The Naxal rebels are in full control and there is no writ of the Indian government in these areas.

----- One thing you need to realise is - GoI is considering Naxal/ Maoists issue as an internal problem. GoI don’t want to use Army or Air force for crushing this movement. We don't want to do a carpet bombing on our own territories. Most of Maoist influenced areas are in deep forests or tribal villages. Why we need Air Force here? You need to understand that, action against Naxals/Maoists are carried out by Indian police forces (including CRPF) which are coming under Ministry of Home, GoI or under various State Home ministries.

Air force involved in this? Yes. Because these areas are mainly located in remote jungles, so police forces need logistical support from Airforce. By the way, large scale operations started some two years back considerably reduced the influence of Maoists.

The shocking aspect of Daily Mail’s report is that some Indian nuclear scientists are reportedly assisting Naxal rebels to learn to utilise and transport uranium. On the other hand, many of India’s missile facilities are  located in either the Red Corridor or in the areas controlled by Hindu radicals and militant organisations. There are reported cases of the abduction of nuclear scientists from these areas, which is a very disturbing situation with respect to the safety and security of nuclear weapons.

---- I am very much interested to know which areas you are referring to, when you say ‘controlled by Hindu radicals and militant organisations’.

Indian nuclear facilities both civilian and military are well guarded, don’t worry about that.

Just imagine if a nuclear weapon fell in the hands of Indian terrorists; this could lead to an accidental nuclear war between Pakistan and India. Likewise, an accident at a nuclear power plant could release radiation that may not respect any borders.

--- Indian terrorists? Who are they? We (and rest of the world) are much more concerned about the situation, where Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal fell in to the hands of various terrorist organizations.

India has to take numerous steps to ensure the safety of its nuclear program.

--- We are already doing that.

Hope that this article will clear you doubts.


Another day - Another rape, Another murder

A 19-year old girl was allegedly held in captivity and 'sold' several times to various people over one year of time in Shivpuri district. 19-year-old girl raped, sold many times in a year - TOI

A 26-year old Adivasi girl was raped and murdered in Assam's Tinsukia district. Adivasi girl raped, killed - TOI

First incident is from MP and the second one from Assam. I am not seeing any candle light vigil or outpouring of emotions in roads or media studios!!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Paradise Lost I :- India – Overdriving

Paradise lost was written by English poet John Milton way back in 17th century. Primary idea of this Biblical epic is the fall of man - temptation of Adam and Eve by fallen angel Satan - and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

I am yet to read this book, but didn’t find a better analogy to describe the situation India is current in. A country which excelled in trade in ancient days remained in the dreams of Alexander, Roman Empire, Arabs, Persians, and Turks; European colonial powers like Portuguese, Dutch, French and English.

A country which enchanted the world to such an extent that many even imagined the presence of gold digging ants here, source of premium textiles, renowned for spice trade etc. However in times she was not able to live up to that reputation; we often failed to protect her from the invading army – Persians, Turks – who can forget the massacres committed by invading army in this land? Then another two centuries under British.
Independence in 1947 certainly freed us from British. Unfortunately, economic ideas which based more on ideals than practical realities often held the country back. These policies led us to the front door of IMF in the early eighties, then on early 90’s.

Under strict conditions of IMF GoI led by then Prime Minister P.V Narasimha Rao broke many chains and allow the fresh air to come in. Ironically many in India is not ready to give any credit to Mr Rao – who was ready to take the political risks even when running a government which holds a wafer thin majority in Parliament.

Many feared the breaking of status-quo. Firms which stuck in the old world lost their prominence. For each firm who underestimated the power of new market equations – there were ten hungry others in the street to grab the opportunity - end of dreaded License Raj.

 The biggest example may be telecom sector. We applied for a landline connection in the end of eighties and we got it at the end of nineties - almost 10 years for getting a simple connection. Things changed by the beginning of 2000s. Entry of private players with never ending appetite for market share and profits changed the whole foundation itself. Private sector banks may not offer loans for poor but it certainly offered a different option for Indian public and gave PSUs hard run for money. Unfortunately this didn’t change the attitude of PSU banks, which clearly reflects in the growth rate of private sector banks.

In the end of 90’s world also witnessed some dust, smoke and fire coming from the deserts of Rajasthan, which of course accompanied by similar smoke and dust from across the border. I am still wondering wasn’t it more practical for India to remain as an unofficial nuclear power? That blasts were accompanied with sanctions, which nationalists considered as an opportunity to show indigenous strength. Whether it was fully successful is still a matter debate. However ther is no doubt that sanctions certainly created hindrance for economic growth.

2000s also gave an opportunity for India’s IT sector. 90’s induced the momentum for Indian companies to start looking at global level. However it was in the 2000s these companies perfected what later came to known as global service delivery model - thanks a lot to Y2K as well. From there onwards it was a dream run, economy also showed rapid growth rates - averaging around 8% - for the first decade in 21st century.

In between many economists (majority of them are however Indian ones!!!) categorized India as the next major super power, shining democracy in BRIC which later changed to BRICS. Needless to say many – who really know the meaning of the word super power – described the country as ‘emerging power’. The caveat here is anyone can be an emerging power, as long as it is abstract it is difficult to put a number for that. This period also witnessed three stable governments at the centre - NDA, UPA I and UPA II. All three finished their terms.

Business also witnessed phenomenal growth. Many Indian companies went for an overseas acquisition drive, following the footsteps of earlier Japanese and later Chinese. Tetly, Corus, Natsteel, Jaguar and Land Rover etc came under Indian management.

Everything was not as good as it was presented in front of us. We jumped directly from (or tried to move from) an agrarian economy to that of service based one, ignoring the crucial middle one – Industries and factories. Because of this, our industry base was not in a good shape. Many of our exports were primary commodities such as iron ore, bauxite, mica and many of of imports were value added products. For e.g. India exported iron ore to China and they exported steel, and other value added product back to us. India exported titanium ores and imported titanium metal.

We were no longer in isolation, our economies slowly but steadily started integrating with rest of the world. This also tied as with global booms as well. Till 2007 other parts of the world showed decent growth rates, we too. Post 2007 global crisis, when we continued to travel in good pace – also backed by financial stimulus - probably a strange confidence came to us - this will go forever. For a long time, we debated and debated without any actual reforms – not much social reforms, not much economic reforms, not much reforms in science, universities, not much reforms in law and order or judicial systems either.

Older people often say we have to sit first and then stretch our legs otherwise we will fell down. Did we do that? In order to create a welfare state, government ran many programs which presented mammoth bills to exchequer. Take the case of National Employment Rozgar Yojana, this program almost emptied out Indian treasuries.

We were trying to give jobs to all but done little to reduce or atleast trying hard to control the population growth. We tried to create infrastructure, but private companies who bid for this projects did little homework and presented flimsy financial projections. Easy money for these projects – which based on unreliable projections – created too many non performing assets. Same case with power sector also, discoms never showed the financial prudence to charge people according to the generation cost, they hardly tried to reduce the power theft too. However central government indeed tried to cut the T & D losses.

So we can’t blame everything – all of our problems no matter whether it is financial or social – on global financial crisis. Our own health was week; our own house was not in order; if not today tomorrow it was bound to happen. Is global financial crisis is a cause for our current crisis? Yes. Is it root cause? No.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Musaffarnagar Riots - New Addition to the list of Indian Communal Riots

According to Reuters report, "The immediate cause of this weekend's violence appears to be the killings of three men following an incident involving the sexual harassment of a Hindu teenage girl. According to one account the brothers of the girl killed her persecutor but were then killed themselves by "members of his community"

In the end, this communal extravaganza permanently closed the eyes of 38 people. This 38 people may come from 38 different families; each family may have 5 members. Each victim may associate with a minimum of 5 others by blood and 10 others by friendship. So in total 38 deaths may directly affected 38 * (5 + 5 + 10) = 760 people.

Many more suffered injuries, hundreds of others suffered economic losses. Tomorrow when they see the attackers who destroyed their property, on roads, what will happen? Won't this deep routed distrust and unhappiness stay there waiting for revenge? Given a chance, today’s victims may become tomorrow’s attackers and the cycle may go on.

What we are seeing here is lack of rational thinking and respect to law and order. Corruption, bribery and a system (slower than snail) already made the people unhappy, if not angry. On top of that politician's – who promises a lot and delivers little – often compound this anger, desperation and sense of being discriminated against.

In contemporary India rationality is in severe short supply. Many, often, don't even think why it happened this way? What is my role? As an ideal citizen what should I do?

This non-questioning, irrational behaviour is leading us to the end of a cliff. Did I say non-questioning? Well I am sorry; we often question others for all the wrong reasons. We ask hundreds of questions to someone, who unfortunately asked the way to reach a place. Nobody feels any problem in become vigilante and assume the role of moral policing. But the same person may not be so interested in reporting irregularities to authorities declare full income or pay full taxes.

We ask hundreds of questions to sales men who come to our door, but when someone say somebody from your caste got killed in near-by village and it’s your duty avenge the death many may not even ask why that person killed in the first place? Why they are not approaching police?

According to a theory if you ask ‘why’ for every reply you get, by end of fifth ‘why?’ you will be able to reach the root cause of a problem.

Musaffaranagar witnessed the death of 38 people within days. This may not be the end. If we are not ready to become rational, understand that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind, and try to think beyond the cages of caste and religion, Musaffarnagar will repeat in other places of India. Atleast for your own selfish reasons - for peace, protection of property, economic stability - be reasonable and live miles away from irrational and unreasonable behaviour.

Government may constitute a judicial commission with a sitting judge as its chairman (now-a-days this became a ritual). My request is, set up a social commission as well. Its terms of reference may include, why we are so easily become a victim of communal propaganda, why we are walking far away from the world reasoning and rationality? Why anyone can easily sow the seed of violence in our mind?



1. Muzaffarnagar riots: politicians banned over fears of spreading violence - The Guardian
2. Religious riots kill 31 in UP, political parties trade blame - The Reuters

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Review: In quest of Last Victory by Navin Gulia

I came across this book by accident, an accident which I like to happen repeatedly. After thinking for a while, I ordered this book in FlipKart.

Who is Navin Gulia? Good question, by end of this book you will came to know who he is.
Like many other autobiographical books, this one also starts with author’s birth. I don’t know what happened around me when I born.  Do you remember? Like many other authors, Navin also went for over describing those days.

Slowly, timeline moved forward and we reached his school days. Author, just like most of us when we were kids, describe himself as a youngster longed for love, praise, affection and attention. Did he have all those things? No. His inability to finish in first place in many sporting events was too much disappointing for him. In addition to that Navin also ended up doing things, against his wishes for making others happy, an important mistake we often make.

As the time passed, author moved to different schools in different places, which brought new friends, environment and new experiences as well.

An important characteristic of Navin was his attention towards physical excercises – no matter whether it is walking or running or other athletic events he was very eager to practice daily. However, when it comes to competitive events he often find him in second place.

An interesting feature of this book is frequent motivational lines coming in every other page. At some times, you may feel – isn’t it going over the head? Did he really think like that at that age? However, most of the time, these lines are in sync with progress of the story.

One major setback he suffered at this period is the failure in the mathematics during the final year in schooling. Failure in board exams is something which can break any one. But Navin was not ready to give up.

From here onwards, along with author we are also going to joining at the life in NDA and how the institution helped him to focus more on life and values. Or as he writes - understood the key to success – ‘working meticulously towards it’.

However, all were not smooth. He had to work very hard to reach the standard he set for himself. In NDA a kick by a horse resulted in 29 stitches to his face. These pages also explain the idea of infinite ability to do things. Well I may not fully agree with this, I would rather like to agree on the principle, ‘One should realise when a task is no longer achievable’, and one should carefully decide on the course of action when the cost of achieving victory far outweighs the benefits we can extract out of it. A pyrrhic victory serves no one – neither the victorious one nor the defeated one.  However, ideas of infinite ability presented by him are inspirational.

One can also find references to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem – ‘IF’

“IF you can keep you head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,”

Then come IMA, here Navin suffers the biggest setback of his life. An adventurous life involving Rock Climbing, Parachute Jumping etc came to a halt when he suffered an accident which results in Paralysis.

However Navin was not a person to be disappointed by life, hibernate and spend rest of his life with memories from old days. He tried hard to go forward and leave the bad memories behind. Finished graduation from Symbiosis, got driving license, tried flying a glider, spend long hours in driving, two failed attempts to Khardung La (second attempt reached very close to the top), world’s highest motor-able road.

Then comes the third attempt to highest roads in the world – this time to Marsimik La. Can I say rods? No. It’s more of some dirty tracks.

I can divide this book to three parts. In first part, Navin as a kid - eager to become lovable, to get attention and affection. In second part Navin as an energetic teenager is trying hard to live a life which is up to his dream. In third part, after the accident, he is not only trying hard to become less and less dependable on others, but also struggling to give a new meaning to life. His journeys to Marsimik La not only send a message of hope but also show how nothing can create roadblocks in front of a fully committed individual.

There is much more in the books, like in IMA and after that running to multiple chapters. Enjoy reading.