In the sciences, and at the international level, Nobel is the most prestigeous of all prizes and awards, because (a) it is a recognition from peers, (b) it is rare (just one award per year in each field), and (c) it comes with a big pot of money. India instituted last year its version of the Nobel -- the India Science Prize that comes with 2.5 million ruppes. This prize went to Prof. C.N.R. Rao in 2005.
Many awards retain a very high level of prestige even if they offer little or no money. To the winners of these awards, peer recognition and rarity count for much more than the money. In the Oscars, for example, money -- if there is any -- is completely irrelevant.
What are the equivalent of the Oscars in India in the fields of science and engineering? The Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prizes, awarded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to scientists under 45. These prizes do come with some money; but, at about a hundred thousand rupees, it is not much (but nice!).
The SSB Prize winners for 2004 and 2005 received their awards in a New Delhi function today. Many of you probably saw the huge CSIR ads in today's newspapers, with photographs of all the Prize winners. Congratulations to them all!
The list of those who received their SSB Prizes today includes two colleagues from IISc: Prof. S. Umapathy (2004) and Prof. S. Ramakrishnan (2005) in the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry. The 2004 list also features a friend, Prof. Madan Rao from the Raman Research Institute, just a kilometer from IISc. Special contratulations to them!
Next in the ladder of prestige would be the Fellowship of the science academies; but there are more per year in a given field (after all, there are three science academies!) than the Bhatnagars, and they are of a different character -- they are meant more as lifetime achievement awards.
There is one other set of awards that the media go gaga over: the 'Padma' awards. In spite of their rarity (every year, just a handful of scientists/engineers get it), they command a much lower level of prestige than the Fellowships or the Bhatnagar Prizes. This is because of two reasons: (a) politicians' involvement, and (b) some controversy or the other that erupts every year (usually in the fields of arts and sports).
Back to the Bhatnagar Prizes. In spite of the high prestige they carry with the scientists and engineers, it is a pity that the mainstream media missed covering the CSIR announcement of this year's awards a few weeks ago. Sigh! When I tried Google news this morning, I found only one site: Chennai Online. Now that the Prime Minister participated in the awards ceremony this morning, I am sure all the newspapers will carry it tomorrow.