Interviews

Consolidating the components of earth science research

Padmashri P S Goel was at the helm of affairs at the time the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) was constituted way back in 2006, and had initiated the integration process among MoES institutions. He continues to extend support to the Ministry, especially in the area of atmospheric and oceanic technology. On the eve of the ten years celebration of the MoES, the Editor in conversation with the highly decorated scientist, finds many new vistas of research opening up for the Ministry. At present Goel is the Honorary Distinguished Professor at ISRO, HQ and Dr Raja Ramanna Chair Professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

G’nY. What was your vision for  MoES when you brought it into being in 2006?

We had a Department of Ocean Development (DoD) since early eighties, focusing on science and technology related to oceans. The atmospheric science activity was with the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Even ocean activity was fragmented over various other governmental departments. Though some goals could be achieved in isolated setups, larger goals like dependable weather forecast could not be achieved by looking at atmosphere alone. Earth is a complex and coupled system. While atmospheric conditions drive ocean state, in the long term, it is the ocean that drives the atmosphere. Something that happens today in ionosphere affects atmosphere some time later. Antarctic is a depository of what happened in the past, but Antarctic also affects ocean currents and wind patterns.

Much before I came to DoD as secretary, the scientific community had realised that we need to look at earth in its totality. I was tasked to transform the DoD to the MoES and I undertook the exercise from day one of my joining in July 1, 2005. We could perhaps not put everything together, but we consolidated the major components. Recently the National Centre for Earth Sciences, Tiruvananthpuram (NCESS) has been brought under the MoES banner, which is a part of that continuing process.

Our vision was twofold—first to understand the earth system as a whole through deeper understanding of each element and create an inter disciplinary expertise to model the interdependence; and two to develop technology and services in the related areas and operationalise them for the benefit of the people.

G’nY. What were the prime most challenges you faced in integrating various institutions and departments?

Please remember, we were the first country in the world to think of a ministry dedicated to earth sciences. However, it was not difficult to win over the political leadership, though it needed numerous meetings and coordination. But, it was gruelling to convince a dozen departments, everyone with whom you have either interacted or are likely to interact, after a new ministry is created. Some were afraid that they would loose a part of their existing set-up, while many others thought that the ministry would become more important than their departments. What was urgently needed was the support of the Planning Commission. Rajeev Ratan Shah, member secretary, was initially difficult to convince, but once persuaded, he became the biggest champion. Cabinet secretary B K Chaturvedi was also a big help. They knew about me earlier as member space commission and that was a great asset. Finally all the papers were ready with consent from everybody by April and cabinet approval was awarded on July 12, 2006. The timing was perfect and we decided to continue to celebrate our Foundation Day on July 27 as a legacy of DoD. Getting a new ministry created in just a year was a new milestone in the country. Personally, it was a great learning experience as how the governmental system works and how a book kept in cabinet secretariat ‘Allocation of Business Rules’ is the bible.

G’nY. How has MoES shaped and where do you see it in the next decade?

A first ten-year journey is very important for a ministry because it sets the path and the pace. My successor Dr Nayak was fully conscious of the vision of MoES and he continually moved towards it. Today, we have lot more confidence in the forecast from India Meteorology Department (IMD) for weather and monsoon. We have some of the best services on potential fishing zones, ocean state forecast, tsunami warning or deep ocean exploration. It has all happened because it is MoES.
We have a new secretary Dr M Rajeevan, who has seen the change and I am sure, totally shares the zeal. It is important that we continue to understand the earth systems, whether climate change, ocean resource or snow in the Himalaya. It is also our responsibility to develop technologies to make life more comfortable for those who live along the coast and learn from Antarctic to give better living conditions to our soldiers in Siachin. The list of possibilities is endless and I am sure you will have lot more services and science coming from MoES in the next ten years.

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