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SCIENCE STUNTED

All through the 25 years since its establishment, the Madhya Pradesh Council of Science and Technology (MAPCOST) has been in the news mostly for wrong reasons. Now that the organisation is celebrating its silver jubilee with grand plans, Sravani Sarkar makes an appraisal of the problems besetting MAPCOST (now MPCST).

india Updated: Nov 07, 2006 16:50 IST

All through the 25 years since its establishment, the Madhya Pradesh Council of Science and Technology (MAPCOST) has been in the news mostly for wrong reasons. Now that the organisation is celebrating its silver jubilee with grand plans, Sravani Sarkar makes an appraisal of the problems besetting MAPCOST
(now MPCST).


he Madhya Pradesh Council for Science and Technology (MAPCOST, now called MPCST) was a grand idea conceived at a national workshop in Bangalore in 1981. The workshop recommended setting up of autonomous agencies in states to help reach out fruits of science and technology to the common man.

In the initial years the MAPCOST bubbled with grand ideas. But, a clear roadmap was missing. The enthusiasm of early years to act as an important catalyst for fostering scientific temperament across the State gave way to internal bickering and confused priorities in the organisation. Soon enough, ad hocism ruled the roost.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with the MPCST. It has scientists with requisite expertise and ideas to leverage the abundant natural resources of Madhya Pradesh for lasting advantages of the people. The MPCST, which is supposed to play this role through a two-pronged approach of S&T application and promotion, has a huge infrastructure comprising a 5000 square feet property in Bhopal and a 165-strong staff. It has employed about 40 senior scientists with expertise in various fields.

It also has financial and policy support of both the State and Union governments apart from a decentralised network of field agencies including NGOs, schools, colleges, universities and other academic institutes. So what does stop the MPCST from really making a difference?

To find answer to this question a closer scrutiny of the functioning of the MPSCT is imperative. The biggest handicap the organisation is grappling with is, of course, paucity of funds. The budgetary allocation is Rs 3 crore a year from the State Government. This, however, does not include project-based grants from the Central Government departments. The establishment expenditure eats into almost 70 per cent of the total budget.

Another problem plaguing the council is resentment among the staff. It is tomfoolery to expect a scientific organisation to produce positive results in an atmosphere where creative minds are wracked by mundane worries. This is precisely what is happening in the MPSCT.

The staff are dissatisfied over some ad hoc decisions of successive director-generals. Since the council lacked a clear roadmap from the beginning, successive DGs pushed their own agendas. This created confusion. And the State Government did precious little to dispel it.

The MPCST, or science and technology as a whole, has never been high on the State Government’s priorities. It is apparent in the fact that the Department of Science and Technology is clubbed with Technical Education and that it has not got an independent minister or a principal secretary.

Within the department, junior officers have often handled the S&T affairs.
Most of the former DGs admit that the council has not been able to achieve what it should and could have done. They all blame the failure on political interference and bureaucratic apathy. Meagre budget for the council is another major grouse.

All these years the government treated the council like an undesirable child that might occasionally get some toys to play with but no nutrition to grow healthy. This approach has dealt a body blow to the objective with which the council was set up.

In the last six financial years, although the budget has gone up by roughly Rs one crore, it still is a paltry Rs 3.5 crore for 2006-07. The inflow of funds from the Central government through projects has also not been uniform; it has been linked to the performance of the council. A sizeable chunk of this fund has also remained unutilised (see box).

The mess began after Prof T S Murthy’s tenure was over. A respected personality, founder-DG Murthy provided a good direction to the council. His successors too have been eminent scientists from different fields with a zeal to make a difference in the council. But instead of providing leadership to the council for the overall growth of S&T, they took it as an extension of their own research field.

They brought with them some fixed notions and ideas, some of which did not match the MPSCT’s basic objectives. Their unidimensional approach weighed heavily on the council, which moved zigzag over the years as per the whims of the helmsmen.

The DGs forced modifications in the system to suit their agenda. In the process, whatever was achieved in the previous DG’s tenure got virtually nullified. The council had to start afresh with a new set of activities. In one DG’s tenure scientists and staff had to focus on space technology and his successor involved the subordinates in projects on construction of public lavatories.

Most of the former DGs conceived ideas too big for the council to implement. They didn’t realise the basic premise that the council was supposed to work as a coordinating and catalytic agency and not as a specialised research institute. The three-year fixed term for the DG also created hurdles in their effective functioning. And then politics often influenced selection of DGs. 

The Executive Director, supposed to be in charge of administrative affairs, is picked only from officers on deputation. This dilutes the post’s gravity. Most of the officers deputed are those sidelined by their parent departments. Not surprisingly, they were not keen on the affairs of the council.

Even this post has remained vacant for the last four years, and a senior scientist, chosen by the DG, held it as an additional charge. This again led to bickering and politicking.

The ad hocism is not confined to ED’s post. It seems to be more a rule than an exception in the council. A major problem arose after 17 scientists of the Remote Sensing Application Centre (RSAC) were regularised without sanction in 1993 after a long agitation. Later, between 1994 and 1997, the salary structures of the scientists were scaled down from the University Grants Commission (UGC) level to that of the State Government, causing resentment among them. No promotions were made for many years.

The RSAC that employs about 55 staff members is seen as a white elephant in the council. It eats up major chunk of the budget owing to additional regularised staff.

No doubt, the RSAC has undertaken some commendable work since its establishment in 1984 including compiling of district level Natural Resources Information System (NRIS), mapping of fallow land and several other projects of importance, but overstaff and under work in the centre is proving rather too costly to the MPSCT.

There is a distinct feeling in the council that the RSAC should be an independent unit like in other states. What the council needs is a good administrator with scientific temperament, better prioritisation by the State Government and a thorough introspection about its goal and vision.