S&T secy wants to retire, search on for new one

The Ministry of Science and Technology is likely to have a new Secretary after seven years, with the incumbent, T Ramasami, set to relinquish the job at the end of this month.

The government has set up a search-cum-selection committee under Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth to look for a suitable candidate for the post that is reserved for scientists of eminence and repute, and cannot be given to any IAS officer. The present Secretary took over in May 2006 and received at least three extensions which ensured that he has been at the helm of the ministry for seven years.

Ramasami is learnt to have ruled him out of contention this time, having told Science and Technology Minister S Jaipal Reddy that he wants to retire.

What is interesting is that two candidates among the five shortlisted by the selection committee are also learnt to have expressed their reluctance to accept the post.

The committee, which has C N R Rao, Goverdhan Mehta, M K Bhan and Ramasami as members, had shortlisted Devang Khakhar, director of IIT-Bombay, Vinod K Singh, director of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, Milan K Sanyal, director of Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Kolkata, D D Sarma of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Suresh Das, director of the National Institute of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology in Thiruvananthapuram. Of these, Khakhar and Sarma are learnt to have expressed their unwillingness for the job.

If the committee decides that no suitable candidate is available from those remaining in the shortlist, Ramasami may find getting himself another extension.

One member of the committee, however, said that the reluctance of scientists to join the ministry was understandable. "We would be slightly worried if candidates are too eager to take the post. Most of the scientists like to keep doing their scientific work," he said.

The ministry is one of the few places where the Secretary-level position is reserved for scientists. Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Department of Space and Department of Atomic Energy are the other places where only scientists are appointed as Secretary.

At all these places, Secretaries traditionally have enjoyed longer tenures than their counterparts in other ministries and departments. Ramasami's predecessor, V S Ramamurthy, was Secretary for 11 years, from 1995 to 2006.

The present Secretary in Ministry of Earth Sciences, Shailesh Nayak, has been in office since 2008. M K Bhan served as Secretary of Department of Biotechnology for almost eight years before retiring last year. R A Mashelkar was Secretary of Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for 11 years.

Long stints have given these science administrators an opportunity to chart out long-term science policies and implement these under their own watch.

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