Sunday, January 7, 2018

Dr Baldev Raj interview Business India

Business India, April 27-May 10, 2015

‘CSR funds give new hope to research’

The National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS ) was founded in a verdant campus in Bengaluru near the iconic IISc, by J.R.D. Tata and Raja Ramanna 25 years ago. Baldev Raj, director, NIAS, speaks to Shivanand Kanavi on the impact of the institution and its future vision

NIAS has completed 25 years. How would you visualise its role and future?

When J.R.D. Tata conceived this institute with Raja Ramanna the focus was on producing holistic thought leaders in all domains. He wanted to create a place where you could attract the best of the people in humanities, culture and heritage, science and technology, policies, strategic studies, education, etc. I think we have done eminently well in that respect. Every year we have about 15 or 20 such programmes for leaders from government and enterprises. When they go out, they say they were transformed.
We are an impactful institute but with a small budget. After I came onboard six months ago, I have interacted with everybody – our associates, adjunct faculty, chair professors or regular faculty, PhD students and so on. To be effective, to make an impact, in addition to people, you need some money. The Tata Trust supported us, in fact we exist because of the Tata Trusts. The way forward would be that, we create a sort of corpus, endowment money, which will yield us about `10-15crore a year, which is not much as an annual budget for such an institution.

To create this endowment fund are you tapping corporates, government, NRIs, and HNIs?

Fortunately, with CSR having been built into Company Law recently, I am sure our kind of institutions with deep societal impact will attract some CSR funds. So, one can approach some enlightened corporates and I have already started talking to a few. Another is to take up with the Departments of Science& Technology, Atomic Energy, Space and Defence, asking for endowment. They have already given us some money and I have requested them to enhance it based on our performance. We are also guided by an eminent management council headed by S. Ramadorai. Their large network of contacts would certainly help us.

What are the research areas the NIAS faculty is involved in?

We have people here who are in culture and heritage. We have child psychologists who are concentrating on informal education; strategic studies groups that work on different areas like space, defence, atomic energy; energy and environment groups. We also have people who are looking at why India has no time zones and so on. I also want to expand our work in agriculture, especially precision agriculture and sustainable agriculture. In India now we are giving a lot of emphasis to manufacturing but not enough to the future of agriculture.
My idea is to bring some young assistant professors, post-docs, PhD students and conduct field work and experiments in all these areas. So, our needs are small. However, NIAS needs to be more visible.

If you want to give inputs to NITI Aayog then what would be your focus areas?

I have brought on the agenda two new areas. One is the study of inequalities. It is not easy to analyse the inequalities. If you want to have inclusive development, inclusive growth, then, first of all, you need to know which are the excluded communities or what is the extent of exclusion.
The second area is our cultural heritage. I don’t think we really have anybody who can stand up in government to say what the holistic picture regarding heritage is.
Can we come to the level of where Europe is with respect to cultural characterisation in say 10 years of at least 100 items in our cultural heritage? I find NIAS to have the right people. We also have an interesting group on behavioural ecology studying the conflict of man, animals and forests and they have always in the field. I think they have great peer recognition but now we are trying to see how we can make an impact on the policy.

A highly neglected area is the Harappan sites and the tourism and public education through them.

Yes, we are working on Dholavira, in Kutch, one of the largest Harappan sites in India, along with IIT Gandhinagar using satellite and digital technology.

Dr Baldev Raj, Obituary

Dr Baldev Raj

(April 9, 1947-Jan 6, 2018 )

Dr Baldev Raj, Director of National Institute of Advanced Studies, (NIAS) Bengaluru and former Director of Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research, (IGCAR), Kalpakkam sadly passed away in Pune on the morning of Jan 6, 2018, where he had gone to attend a meeting at the Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET), Pune. Our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends and colleagues of Dr Baldev Raj.

The vast contribution of Baldev Raj to the Indian Fast Breeder Program in general and to Radiometallurgy, non-destructive testing, strategic materials etc. are well known (  )and are already documented (see for example: ).

He was richly recognised for the same by the Government of India with a Padmashri and numerous National and International apex bodies in Science and Technology.

I would like here to briefly highlight a few other aspects of his personality and work which are less documented.

Baldev Raj was greatly interested in India’s culture and heritage. As a Materials Scientist he contributed by studying among other things the near perfect casting technology involved in Chola Bronzes of Thanjavur (Where Gods Come Alive - Bronze Icons of South India by Baldev Raj, C Rajagopalan, C V Sundaram, Vigyan Prasar, 2000, ). Under the inspiration of Profs T R Anantharaman, C V Sundaram, S Ranganathan, A K Biswas a new field called Archaeo-Metallurgy came into being in India, which tried to reconstruct our history of minerals, metals and materials by applying modern scientific analysis to ancient artifacts and Baldev Raj participated in it enthusiastically ( ).

He was aware of the fact that native intelligence and genius had no correlation with class background and in fact the nation loses a lot of potential talent because the bright children of the poor do not get enough opportunities or encouragement to flower. He started a vigorous program in Coimbatore to identify such children train a bunch of dedicated teachers to help them out and create opportunities for them to interact with the nation’s top scientists, educationists, social scientists, journalists etc. while he was an advisor to a group of educational institutions there. I had the good fortune of interacting with nearly a hundred such brilliant pre-teens to teens in Coimbatore when he had invited me to deliver some lectures at PSG Institute of Technology and Applied Research in 2014. I was amazed at their energy, enthusiasm and chutzpah. More over the twinkle in Baldev Raj’s eyes as they spoke was unforgettable.

One of the lesser known aspects of Baldev Raj’s leadership at Kalpakkam was how he dealt with the unprecedented danger and destruction caused by the Tsunami in December 2004. It remains a case study in disaster management and I wish it were properly recorded for the lessons to be learnt. ( )

He was articulate and accessible to journalists and was a great believer in effective science and technology communication. I visited the Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam twice in 2006 and in 2011 and as Director of IGCAR, Baldev Raj was more than happy to share the progress in the prestigious Fast Breeder Program.

He had a broad vision towards humanities and social sciences unlike most scientists and he showed that effectively when he became the director of NIAS in 2014. NIAS was conceived by JRD Tata in 1988 as an Institute of Advanced Studies with a multidisciplinary ambience, where the future leaders of India can come for broadening their vision. It has had the service of such distinguished personalities as Raja Ramanna, Roddam Narasimha, K Kasturirangan, V S Ramamurthy and now Baldev Raj as Directors.

He ran a tight ship at NIAS and at the same time successfully broadened financial support for research at NIAS from not only Tata Trusts and various government departments like Science & Technology, Atomic Energy, Railways, Space, Renewable Energy etc but also corporates like TCS, Titan etc.

He advocated passionately a number of multi-disciplinary studies at NIAS on energy, strategic studies, inequality studies, consciousness studies, education, heritage conservation, man-animal interactions, risk communication in science and technology etc. (Business India, April 27-May 10, 2015, ‘CSR funds give new hope to research’ )

He helped in creating a vibrant atmosphere of discussion without intellectual silos at NIAS. He was a good people manager and cared for every aspect of the institute from its conscientious gardener to the needs of young and old researchers. He will be missed by a large community of scientists and academics.

Shivanand Kanavi