Several scientific research projects funded by the ISRO and the department of science and technology, including that of India’s first ‘herbal prawn culture project’, are on the brink of grinding to a halt.
Reason? The ministry of science and technology first received an anonymous letter, in which the sender alleged that government funds were being misused. When no irregularities were found in the inquiry and the department sanctioned more funds, a student alleged that she was molested for more than 30 times over a period of nearly two years by the scientist who was heading the projects.
Humiliated and shell-shocked, the scientist, Avijit Mitra, head of the marine science department of Calcutta University, stopped going to college and is facing an inquiry.
Mitra said, “Not only am I being framed, but I’m also being humiliated everywhere even before I’ve been pronounced guilty. How can I pursue my research in this state of mind?”
While ‘malicious’ messages are being spread against Mitra on social networking sites, his daughter and wife are also bearing the brunt. The research scholars under him are depressed and shocked, since, without Mitra, the projects have become rudderless and will soon get stalled.
Mitra said one of the most important projects was the production of ‘herbal prawns’, which are much larger in size and more nutritious than their normal counterparts. The department of science and technology was funding the project.
“We were producing prawns in the brackish waters of the Sunderbans using phytoplanktons (floating microscopic plants) to feed the prawns instead of dried fish powder. The pilot project proved successful as the prawns doubled their normal size and had more carotenoid, a substance that boosts the immune system in human beings. Even the pollution triggered in the ponds by the use of dried fish powder could be stopped,” he added.
The other projects facing hurdles include an ISRO-funded project to measure global warming through carbon dioxide concentration and a ministry of earth science project on carbon storage by Sunderbans mangroves.
The student had lodged a complaint with the university authorities in July. The university authorities referred the complaint to the committee which probes allegations of sexual harassment. The committee, however, refused to look into the matter claiming that the alleged incident, if any, had taken place outside the campus. The girl then appealed to governor MK Narayanan, who then wrote to vice-chancellor Suranjan Das to probe into it.
Meanwhile, the Syndicate of CU on Saturday admitted molestation charge against the scientist and decided to initiate legal action against him. The Syndicate has also admitted a probe against the university’s former HoD of journalism Tapati Basu.