In this conversation I talk with Dr. Sudha Vaddadi (above left having a coffee with me "The Fractured Geologist") who after a two decade distinguished career with the Geological Survey of India (GSI) is now visiting faculty at Fergusson College, Pune. We talk about her PhD research, mapping the complex Deccan lava flows, lack of direct recruitment in the GSI and resulting career stagnation, teaching stratigraphy and the need for more quantitative methods in Master's degree programs, working as the only woman in the GSI office, and waiting long hours in the field for bullocks to pull a broken down jeep to the nearest garage.
Our conversation and email question and answers took place from late January through the month of February. The only changes I have made to the email interview document is to add a few hyperlinks.
[modified on March 5th- changed the order of the questions, brought the question about GSI recruitment to the top]
Suvrat Kher (SK) - Why Geology?
Sudha Vaddadi (SV) – My cousin sisters who are elder to me had majored in Geology and one of them had already joined GSI when I was in Second year of Pre University Course(PUC). I did not know much about the subject at that point. When they used to narrate incidences from their field work etc, I found it fascinating and something different from Physics/Chemistry. Later when I joined FC for BSc, I liked the way the faculty members of Geology Department, interacted with the students, especially Prof.Sowani, Madam Dr. S.Oak, Dr.V.T Parashar, Dr.A.B.Chakranarayan (ABC).
SK- The GSI is often seen as a typical "government" job where people can have a 9 -5 engagement with the office and nothing more. Yet the organization does have talented geologists and a reputation of doing excellent mapping work. What has been your experience about the work culture and opportunities for those who are proactive officers?
SV- GSI may be a typical "government" office as you mention, but in what way is this and talent related. Are you talking about stereo type work? Talent is one thing; only those who have passed Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Geologists exam are selected, so only one or two from each MSc batch get selected. Eminent geologists like Thomas Oldham, J.B Auden, Prof. W.D.West, E.H.Pascoe, D.N.Wadia, Dr.M.S.Krishnan to name a few were part of this illustrious organization and some went on to head the organization.
When I joined GSI, the atmosphere was different; we used to have animated discussions, debated on issues but always felt that we belonged to a large extended family. The situation has changed over the years; officers keep to themselves with little interaction. As a result I have noticed that proactive officers get opportunities only if he/she has a godfather who favours him/her. Sometimes things are still different. I can quote one case of my supervisor, who was heading Pune office. He was a proactive, extremely efficient and upright officer; but his superiors thought he was a threat and many of his juniors found it difficult to work at his pace and hence criticized him. GSI needs more such officers at the top level, and that can happen only if the selection to top posts is based purely on merit.
SK- Why do you think the work culture has changed?
SV- I think the main reason is that today everyone has a laptop, mobile in addition to desktops in each room. They do not believe in personal communication. You can see this happening everywhere, I guess GSI is no exception.
SK- If there are one or two important changes you would see made in the way GSI functions.. what would they be? We talked before about the need to introduce lateral entry into the organization. You mentioned an organized stream of service versus..? Can you elaborate on this and explain how this could lead to career stagnation?
SV- Promotions should be merit based. Geology Stream’ of Geological Survey of India was declared an Organized Service of the Government of India, on 29.09.2010. That being the case, there should have been direct recruitment at least to the post of Geologist (Sr), through UPSC , because Geochemical stream used to advertize for Chemist (Sr). I could not understand why the GSI did not advertize for Geologist (Sr) post directly. In this connection I have send a query through RTI, almost a year back, but have not received any reply so far. In addition, at every stage there should be evaluation, as in other organizations like AMD (Atomic Minerals Directorate)) . This should have been the policy at least till 2010. Many officials like me who were victims of stagnation would have had better career growth had GSI taken such measures.
SK- So you mean all the years before 2010 GSI could have directly recruited by advertising a position but they did not and officers like you suffered as a result.. right?
SV- Yes… As they did not do so, the Departmental Promotions should have been held regularly.
SK- In the U.S for example the USGS has a very proactive public interface through their website and through social media like Facebook and Twitter. Is the GSI slow in terms of cultivating public support for and understanding of the earth sciences? Should their geologists be engaging more with the public using social media tools like blogs, twitter? Do you think working for the government prevents scientists from speaking out freely?
SV- Yes. Every year IMD ( Indian Meteorological Dept) keeps the office open to public on National Science day, 28th February. ARDE ( Armament Research and Development Establishment) and SOI ( Survey of India) also have open day once a year. Such public outreach program are lacking in GSI Pune.
SK- You did research on clay mineralogy after your MSc and later on Morpho-tectonics when you were working with the Geological Survey of India (GSI). In fact your interest in this topic was triggered by your observations of river sediments of the Deccan Plateau region while mapping with the GSI. Can you tell us about your PHD work and why it is important?
SV- In fact it was not just the sediments. When I was carrying out systematic geological mapping in northeastern parts of Pune district and the adjoining parts of Ahmednagar district, I noticed number of anomalous features exhibited by the rivers. This area includes part of Kukadi and Mula river basins, and the Krishna Godavari water divide. Many smaller tributaries of Mula R and Kukadi R occur as deep incised meandering valleys; where channels have incised in bed rock forming narrow gorges punctuated with knick points. Moreover, sediments in some of the smaller tributaries of Kas Nadi is as thick as 40m; which the present stream is not capable of depositing. I discussed this with Prof. Rajaguru, as he and Late Dr. R.B.Gupte had already suggested possibility of rejuvenation of the rivers. Later Prof. Rajaguru gave me some papers based on his work with Dr. Vishwas Kale related to morphology of the Konkan and Upland rivers. I realized that most of the work till early 1990s was carried out by geographers or archaeologists and took up the work as I had complete control of geology of the area.
That’s how I ended up working on Morpho-tectonics in the region of Krishna Godavari divide, Upland Maharashtra for PhD. Based on my studies I identified a major NE-SW trending tectonically active zone which was termed Manchar- Vaijapur Zone. Warping and structural disturbances along this fracture zone resulted in the development of anomalous geomorphic features in the area. I adopted an interdisciplinary approach for the first time to understand the problem of landform development and antiquity of the features in western upland Maharashtra. The bed rock incision, with knick points developed at 600 -650m ASL post dates the formation of latest plantation surface (700 – 780m ASL) and predates the alluvial fills; Late Tertiary to Early Quaternary. Minor knick points associated with calc tufa are of Late Quaternary.
SK- By knick points you mean sudden change in stream gradient resulting in potholes, rapids and waterfalls..right? What could be the reason for this late Tertiary- Quaternary crustal movement? It does appear that the Deccan Volcanics have been deformed at different times due to different mechanisms. The western flank for example shows fault block rotation like features which stem from the formation of the western continental rifted margin. Then there is a component of denudational isostacy. Looking eastwards it seems many regions in the heart of Peninsular India (Gondwana age Satpura Basin) show recent uplift. Could this be related to as some workers suggest crustal stresses transmitted by the India-Asia collision or do you think there are other more localized geological drivers for these crustal upwarps?
SV- Yes, numerous such micro-relief geomorphic features were observed in the rivers which are structurally controlled; by NW-SE and NE-SW trending fractures(intersection of the two conjugate fracture zones is seen in this area). Besides they also exhibit change in sinuosity, deflection and river capture. Having information of a relatively small area, I do not want to generalize, but as you have mentioned; these are related to late Tertiary-Quaternary crustal movements. However local geological and structural factors are additionally responsible for the minor uplifts and warps in the present case.
I’ll try to explain what I mean. The lava flows exposed in the area are dominantly compound pahoehoe flows that exhibit gentle southeasterly gradient. I have observed steepening of gradient and change in gradient direction locally. Besides, there are also drag effects in some flows, abrupt termination of flows. The area is crisscrossed by numerous fractures trending NE-SW and NW-SE, with emplacement of dykes along some; a few dykes host crustal xenoliths. One more interesting feature is lava channels and tubes showing NW-SE and NE-SW alignment.
Remember, I was telling you the other day about the calc tufa (fall and spring) associated with the knick points. Some of these calc tufa deposits have been dated to 8000y-10,000y BP by Pawar et al (1988, Journal Geological Society of India ) and these could be suggestive of intensification of monsoon during early Holocene as suggested by Rajguru (1998, Proceedings of the Annual meeting of INSA, Hyderabad ). The process of tufa formation is still active and I would like to add here that Maharashtra Engineering Research Institute (MERI),Nashik has recorded micro-seismicity from the area around Bote from 1993 to 1997.
Another interesting feature observed here is that the basins north (R. Mula) and south(R. Ghod, R.Kukadi)of the divide show difference in their geomorphology, although the geology and rainfall pattern is same. River Mula and its tributaries which form part of Godavari basin display stronger bed rock incision in contrast to Ghod and Kukadi rivers of Krishna basin.
SK- You joined the GSI after a brief stint at teaching. This is the premier mapping agency of India. Can you tell us briefly the various roles and duties of this agency? I have heard new recruits go through an intense period of training… you are even taught how to fold a map correctly?.. or is that a myth? can u briefly tell us how this training unfolds?
SV- GSI is the premier organization which provides basic earth science data to other government organizations, industries and other geoscientific institutions.
You are right, the newly recruited officers undergo intense eleven month training program which is referred to as Orientation Course for Geologists(OCG). Training is held at different training centers and the main objective is to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and field training. Earlier days there were only six training centers, but today there are twelve field training centers (FTC). The geologists are divided into different groups and the number of groups will depend upon the total number of geologists. The different groups are rotated in such a way that all the officers get trained at different training centers.
At present the 37th orientation course is going on which commenced in December 2013. In the mid eighties, posting of geologists was done at the time of appointment and one is on tour when he/she undergoes orientation training. The present scenario is different. New recruits report to the GSITI,HQ at Hyderabad and the orientation course starts with a foundation module training program. This program is aimed at introducing the new recruits to the organizational structure and functioning of GSI, its mission and goals etc. The officers are equipped with all requisite knowledge for functioning during the eleven month orientation training period as well as for their future assignments in GSI. In earlier days, i.e. in eighties, the first day of training at any FTC starts with lessons on pitching a tent. I don’t know whether this still prevails. As you have pointed out, the topo-sheets to be used in the field are cut and mount on canvas and folded in such a way that handling of the sheet in the field is not cumbersome.
SK- You spent most of your career with the GSI in Maharashtra. The Deccan Volcanic Province (DVP) is a spectacular example of sustained continental volcanism. The last couple of decades have seen some detailed geochemical studies used to understand the evolution of this province. As a mapping organization how have field studies done by the GSI of the physical extent, geometry and structure of lava flows contributed to understanding the geology of the Deccan Volcanic province. Does it get monotonous mapping lava flows and nothing but lava flows? What are some of the interesting aspects of this province that you learnt while working with the GSI?
SV- Systematic geological mapping on 1:50,000 scale of the entire area covered by DVP is possible only by GSI. Any other organization/s or Universities/individuals who have subsequently worked on geochemistry or paleomagnetism have used the existing maps of GSI. Unfortunately, GSI did not publish the data and hence lost out on priority of publication.
Mapping in DVP is more challenging and difficult, although it looks monotonous. When we were students, the idea which was prevalent was that Deccan lavas are parallel, except in Bombay area. One of the first things that I realized was that the flows is not parallel, having a gentle gradient of 1:150-300. Now, the next question is, whether this gradient secondary or primary. I posed this question to my senior colleague Late Dr. Godbole, but he was not clear. What surprised me is that the maps and sections prepared by GSI team lead by late Dr. Ghodke and IIT team lead by Dr.K.V.Subbarao indicating overstepping presumed the gradient to be secondary. However, I have observed flows pinching in the up gradient (against the general gradient) direction. This is possible only if that particular flow has its source somewhere down in the gradient direction and where it shows pinching was a paleo depression. The gradient could be primary and the overall structure is modified by post Deccan tectonics.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that, although GPB (Giant Plagioclase Basalt ) or megacrysts have been used as markers for correlation, when one does not see physical continuity, what is the accuracy. GPBs are seen to pinch and again seen in some sections laterally. Are seen same or coeval?. Does this and varied gradients all point to multiple centre of eruption, active simultaneously? Many of these questions are not satisfactorily explained or understood.
One of the significant contributions has been the recognition of lava channels and tubes from western part of Deccan Volcanic province for the first time during the field season 1989-90 along with my colleague R.K.Sharma. There were similar reports from adjacent area by Shri Ravikumar and Late Shri. P.K.Thorat. Again during the same field season, we reported for the first time dykes enclosing crustal xenoliths from Upland Maharashtra. The only report of similar dykes was from Eastern Maharashtra by Shri. B.Bhusari. Xenolith bearing dykes till then was known from the N-S and E-W trending Narmada Tapi dyke swarms. It was during this time that Javoy and Courtillot(1989)had published their paper “Intense acid volcanism at Cretaceous Tertiary Boundary” in EPSL. Since some of the crustal xenoliths which we reported were glassy, with volcanic textures, we proposed that is could represent the acid phase related to DV similar to the LIR of Karoo Volcanic Province. Unfortunately, our superiors dubbed us as being hypothetical and allowed only modified version of it to be published (that too only abstract).
SK- You mentioned that field mapping of the geology of India on a 1:50,000 scale is complete. More attention now is being paid to geochemical mapping with the intent of identifying economic deposits of gold and Rare Earth Elements. Which are the terrains of particular interest and what are the potential host lithologies?
SV- Systematic Geological Mapping on 1:50,000 scale is almost, complete (~98%), excepting some parts of North East India. National Geochemical Mapping (NGCM) Programme was initiated in line with the recommendation of International Geological Correlation Programme (IGCP) and work commenced in 2000-2001. Based on the NGCM database GSI intends to produce maps depicting geochemical anomalies (primary and secondary dispersion pattern of elements) for the entire country. The maps can be used for various purposes like identify areas with potential for mineral exploration, environmental studies like health hazards associated with trace element accumulation in soils and impact on agriculture. Geochemical mapping carried out in parts of Ajmer, Bilwara and Rajasamand districts, Rajasthan( Delhi and Bhilwara Super group of Proterozoic age; metamorphic rocks- metapelites, metabasics and metamorphosed calcareous rocks ) indicated high concentrations of P and Cr. In Kerala geochemical mapping has revealed the occurrence of gold mineralization in and around Thrissur, part of the Southern Granulite Terrane (SGT). In Maharashtra (W), although the pilot project was initiated in Deccan Basalts, the work is in progress now in Sidhudurg district, Southern Maharashtra.
SK-We talked some years ago.. I think it was 2006.. about easier access to geological maps. At that time the GSI was involved in digitizing its map collection. You told me recently that the entire collection of geological maps of India at a 1:50,000 scale has been digitized. Where does this data reside now? Which professional organizations are making use of this? It is still not available online for users despite us hearing plans to make this data easier to access via the aegis of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. Don't citizens too have a right to easy access to this data?
SV- Yes, as I have told earlier the maps of 1:50,000 scale have been digitized and metadata pertaining to each toposheet is ready for most parts. As per the directives the Ministry of Mines the dissemination of Geoscientific information gathered by GSI has commenced since 2009. Many geological reports and maps are available on GSI portal for use by public free of cost. I do not think that 1:50,000 scale digitized maps are still available though.
SK- I guess all of the above also applies to topographic maps too?
SV- Yes, digital database for the entire country on 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 scale in various formats is ready with SOI and if I am correct, the responsibility of archival of digital data is with National Geo-spatial Data Centre(NGDC), Dehra Dun. You can get more information on procurement formalities etc from SOI office at Phulenagar, Pune.
SK- At a recent conference on stratigraphy in Pune, I heard a senior geologist say that plenty of women are joining the GSI but then many of them don't want tough field postings. Is that perception valid? Has it always been that way? How was it when you joined?
SV- I too have heard so, but I think it could be an exaggeration. It is not correct to generalize. Anyway, now it is mandatory for women geoscientists to carry out minimum couple of years field work.
SK- For many years you were the only woman geologist in the Pune Operational Level Office. How were you treated personally and professionally? In general within the GSI are women treated as equal colleagues?
SV- I had no problem. My colleagues and superiors respected me. In fact I would say that some of them were protective, including the drivers who accompany. In 1987,the then Director was not willing to send me to field probably because, two geologists were murdered near Mahad in 1985. I had to convince him and finally with great reluctance, I was given mapping assignment. He was particular that my field partner would take his family along with him, for my moral strength and any medical emergencies.
However, as in any organization, there are a few who think otherwise. I am frank and upright in my dealings. I would never go and meet my superiors or stay back after office unless it is absolutely necessary. So supervisors thought I had an attitude…., but as I had always met my targets as far as work was concerned I didn’t have much problem. But on the whole my experience has been good. My colleagues especially considered me just like one of them.
SK- You took early retirement from the GSI? Do more women than men take this route? Do they leave because of a lack of opportunities/discrimination? What could the GSI do to encourage women to stay on? Is the GSI sensitive to the two body problem? Does it accommodate requests for same city/region postings for husband and wife?
SV- I took premature retirement mainly due to my own personal reasons. I am not sure about whether more women or men take early retirement. In fact I know of many male geologists who have resigned from GSI and joined MNCs, ONGC, AMD. One of the reasons was stagnation, lack of opportunities and lack of job satisfaction.
In GSI, both husband and wife are generally given posting in the same office. Since 2010, GSI, like any other government organization has extended the child care leave facility.
SK- Has a women ever been head honcho (director general) of the GSI? What is the highest rank achieved by a women in GSI?
SV- No, not DG, GSI, but women geologists have been promoted to senior positions(managerial ), though they are few in number. This is because, earlier, not many women opted for job in GSI. Earlier, entry level Group A officers , Geologist(Jr) were promoted as Geologists(Sr) and subsequently as Director(G) and Deputy Director General. GSI has now introduced one more level in the stream; Supdt. Geol(Superintending Geologist) between the posts of Geologist(Sr) and Director(G). At present there are 3 to 4 women geoscientists in the post of Director(G); Smt. Shyamali Bandyopadhyay, Smt.Tripti Roychowdury to name a few.
SK- You are back into teaching after a long gap. Is the way the subject is being taught changed over the last couple of decades? I remember that at the Master's level there was lecture and a practical class but not much in terms of Research Seminar style of engagement where students and faculty discuss research papers and make that into a learning experience. Is there more of that now or does the old teaching methods still hold? Do faculty use technology like Google Earth in an interactive way to explain geology?
SV- Definitely, most of the faculty members make use of power point and other visual aids for teaching. Credit system of evaluation has been introduced recently for Masters level in FC. University of Pune had introduced this system earlier. As per this new system, there is continuous evaluation and students are engaged in group discussions, extension work(short projects), assignments and are also given research papers which they have to read, discuss and make a small write up. You can say that both teaching and evaluation methods are continuously evolving.
SK- you are teaching Principals of Stratigraphy? By itself the subject can get very abstract.. How do you engage your students while teaching abstract principles? I have often felt that stratigraphy should be taught along with sedimentary geology and basin evolution.. Is that merging of course content (and I don’t mean teaching those two as different subjects in one semester) happening here?
SV- I agree, the subject is abstract. As you have rightly pointed out Stratigraphic principles should be taught along with sedimentary geology and basin evolution. So far there is no mention of merging of the subjects, and these subjects are taught by different faculty. So, I try to do my best (?) with examples from Indian subcontinent and urge the students to THINK and understand the subject as a whole and not be too exam (marks) oriented. I feel, it would be more appropriate if you can talk to some of the students of Part I &II and get a feed back.
SK- Are Master’s degrees in geology offered by State Universities like Pune University on par with those offered by various Indian Institute of Technology programs? I suspect there is a greater emphasis on quantitative methods with a requirement of math and statistics in the IIT degree programs. Is that something State Universities should also insist on?
SV- You are absolutely right.
SK- You mentioned that the experience of fieldwork in terms of logistical support, communications and staying and traveling facilities has changed a lot since you first joined the GSI. Can you tell us how? Any memorable humorous incidents from your days in the field with the GSI you would like to share with us?
SV- When I joined GSI, i.e. in the mid eighties laptop computers, mobile phones, ATM facility were unheard of. Things were not that easy then. Once the field area was allotted as per the Field Season Programme, a pre-field trip is made after studying the SOI toposheet and camping site is identified. This is a pre-requisite, because one needs to open a bank account, in the nearby area. We leave for field work equipped with letters to the Tensildar/Talati and the Police department. First thing we do prior to starting out work is setting up the camp. Meeting the Talati/Tehsildar used to be the most humiliating experience at times, but could not do without it, since we needed a quota of kerosene for cooking and lantern( if we had to pitch a tent). Things have changed now; officers are allowed to hire rooms for their stay and can submit their food bills.
Again every month end(by 25-26th) we had to send a telegram to the head office giving target coverage for the month and highlights. For this we had to travel to the nearest post office. Today the officials can send their data via email. When there is a major break down of the jeep, sanction had to be taken from the head quarters. Without mobile phones, we were handicapped in those days. I remember once we had to hitchhike to the nearest post office, book a trunk call and wait for the call to materialize. Now when I think back, I realize the amount of time wasted. But then, we used to be in the field for six months, so it’s ok I guess. I remember an incident when the axle of our jeep broke when we were in some interior parts, where only foot tracks are there. I used to sit near the vehicle while my colleague our driver used to go in search of some bullock carts. Finally the jeep was pulled by the bullock cart to the nearest road, while we walked alongside. Things would have been so much different, with the mobile communication.
When I think of my predecessors, we were better off .They had to carry out field work on bullock cart and shift camps every 15 days, lest they do not get field establishment allowance (FEA). We too had to shift camps, but not this often; idea was to curtail fuel and avoid dead run of vehicle.
As I have mentioned earlier, the subordinate staff was also very protective. Once it so happened that my colleague had to leave for his home town. So I had to carry out field work alone. As usual, I had told the driver that I would meet him at a designated spot after the traverse and had given an approximate time. The traverse took longer time that expected and could not reach the spot on time. Usually, driver takes a short nap or is chatting with the locals. But on that day, as I was approaching the spot, I saw him standing on the jeep, looking everywhere. He was so much worried that he told me to study river sections, till my colleague, Dr. Sharma gets back. In all probability, 1985 murder was fresh in his mind and got worked up. Well, I was really touched by his concern. When I took voluntary retirement in 2009 GSI was considering hiring vehicles for field work, but I am not sure if it has been implemented.
SK- I remember I had talked to you when I was in high school about geology. You advised me to think carefully because of a lack of career opportunities in India.. Will you still give the same advice today? What has changed if anything?
SV- I think there are many more opportunities now. There are many private companies, MNCs and NGOs today in addition to government and semi government establishments.
SK- We geologists love maps and geological maps are often beautiful to look at with those variously colored lithologic units, notations and symbols. You have looked at hundreds of GSI geological map sheets from all over the country. Do you have a favorite map sheet(s) which speaks to you both for aesthetic reasons and for the geological story it is telling you?
SV – Nothing specific. I always wanted to take part in Antarctic expedition, at least once.
SK- I guess mapping Antarctica geology does sound appealing… Sudha Vaddadi.. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and giving your perspectives on this subject.
SV- I think my reply is too long and am not sure whether I have addressed your queries.,
SK- No..no.. your responses were great..just the level of details I was looking for.. Thank you again.
Watch this space for the next one !