Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Politics And Pettiness In Indian Seismology

American seismologist Roger Bilham who has previously visited India many times to attend workshops and to meet colleagues on a tourist visa is now blacklisted and is being refused entry in to India.

A year ago he and Vinod Gaur of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore wrote a paper in Current Science  (open access) suggesting that there is small probability of a 6-7 mag earthquake near or at the site of a proposed nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in southern Maharashtra and that this should be taken in to account in the design of the plant. The paper was criticized by several Indian seismologists.  The scientific debate has been summarized by K.S Jayaraman.

This May, Bilham was denied entry into New Delhi and deported.  The reason given was that he was coming for activities not consistent with his tourist visa status. Bilham suspects that this decision by the Indian government is due to pressure from a senior Indian seismologist.

From G.S Mudur's article in The Telegraph:

The government decision was presumably based on recommendations made by one or more influential seismologists in India,” Bilham wrote to the IISc on October 17 this year, in a letter where he has declined to evaluate the PhD thesis of a young scholar. 

The IISc had requested Bilham to assist in the evaluation of the thesis. 

“It has been brought to my attention that some younger colleagues have been intimidated by a retired (Indian) seismologist who once held a position in Hyderabad, from working with me, or being associated with scientific studies, or discussions,” Bilham told the IISc. 

“The intimidation takes the form of suggestions that future funding, or chances of promotion, or job security, may be placed in jeopardy if these young scientists are in any way associated with my name,” he wrote, adding that his presence on the panel of thesis examiners might turn detrimental to the future of the young scholar. 

If true, this is a sorry sorry situation. What was it that Prof Krishna Kumar wrote about Indian academia and research institutions recently?... 

Inadequacy of funds is, of course, worrisome, but it cannot explain the extent to which malice, jealousy and cussedness define the fabric of academic life in our country.

All that seems to be on full display here. Several Indian seismologists have spoken out against Bilham's entry ban. More scientists must speak out. Scientific differences and even personality clashes should not translate into bans for scientists. If the tourist visa is indeed a problem then Dr. Bilham should be asked to apply for the correct visa category. But just keeping silent shows our government as a whimsical petty system which takes offense at any dissent, in this case, someone pointing out that it may have been wrong in its assessment of seismic risk. So far there has been no detailed explanation from the government for Bilham's ban.

HT: Nanopolitan


  1. Even as a mere research assistant/intern I have witnessed first hand the pettiness of Indian academia.

    This is very sad - Bilham is a gifted seismologist and his contribution to Indian seismology should be welcomed with open arms.

  2. my impression from my graduate days in Pune has been that if you criticize my work you are attacking my character.. my honesty and so on.. the criticism is taken too personally. add to that, regarding this particular episode there is the sensitive question of someone disagreeing with established Indian government views.. sadly we know what outcome to expect these days.

  3. Bilham is absolutely right !! seismology in a India is a concubine of few egoist people. God knows when they will be free from their ego and let the country flourish !!