Friday, March 10, 2006

1 billion rupees for IISc, and incompetent reporting at the Indian Express

Okay, I will get to the bit about incompetent reporting at the end. Let me start with the real deal, from none other than the source itself -- the Press Information Bureau, the official mouthpiece of the mighty Government of India:

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs(CCEA) today gave its approval for incurring an expenditure of Rs.100 crores for upgrading the overall infrastructure of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc) by 2006-07. This will include Rs. 62 crores during 2005-06 and Rs.38 crores during 2006-07.

The benefits as a result include:
  1. Development of laboratory infrastructure at an estimated cost of Rs.55 crores: Nano and Micro Electronic system laboratory blocks and the modern Biological Science Blocks will be constructed. The modern Biological Science Laboratory blocks will have a total built up area of 90000 sq.ft., with bio-safety infrastructure.
  2. Instrumentation for cutting edge research including computers and communication for which investment of about Rs.20 crores is required. The equipments to be procured would include robot assisted protein purification and crystallization, wireless sensor network laboratory, automated peptide and DAN synthesizer, mobile weather and climate monitoring set up etc.
  3. Schemes and Programmes for attracting and retaining high quality faculty and students. Of the 20 major Departments in IISc, at least two young faculty member will be groomed from each Department. Each faculty member will be given Rs.25 lakh for creation of his/her dedicated laboratory infrastructure.
  4. To provide better infrastructural facilities to facilitate programmes for enhancing international collaboration. An amount of Rs.10 crores for construction of international visitors’ hostel and visiting faculty houses.
Background: The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in India. It has been the flagship University of the country and has been described at various times as the Jewel in the Crown of Indian science. IISc produces nearly 8 to 10% of nation’s publications in scholarly journals of international repute. It is the home to a set of vibrant and internationally acclaimed faculty. It produces nearly 25% of nation’s PhDs in science and engineering. It has been a mother of many institutions, a partner to the nation in almost all its developmental and strategic initiatives and a trustworthy think tank for the industry. IISc has been in existence for almost 100 years and will be celebrating its centenary of sustained excellence in the year 2009.

I love that reference to IISc having been a "mother of many institutions"!

Now, several news sources, including the Deccan Herald have picked up this news -- today. But the Indian Express ran this story yesterday (I linked to it here), and gave it the pride of place -- Page One Anchor! While its reporter, Amitav Ranjan, got most of the details right, he got one crucial piece of it completely wrong.

Under item 3, the PIB bulletin says 2 young faculty members from each department will be lavished with Rs. 25 lakhs. But, this is how Ranjan reported it yesterday:

... the Government has suggested that two students be identified from each of the 20-plus departments at IISc who would get Rs 25 lakh each to pursue their research. [with bold emphasis added by me]

I understand the reporter's urge to run with the scoop, but it works only if the reporting is impeccable. In this particular a scoop [not any old scoop, it's the Page One Anchor!], mistaking students for faculty members is a huge goof. If the 25-lakh 'largesse' is for faculty members, it's about as newsworthy as Abhishek Bachchan's ongoing search for a bride (or, Kamal Haasan's ongoing obsession with quest for an Oscar ;-). If, on the other hand, the largesse is meant for the students the news is revolutionary indeed, and Ranjan knew it. That's why he chose to start his Page One Anchor with headlines screaming about it!

It's a pity that he got it totally wrong ...   :-(