Our Young Scientists Need To Develop a Vision

By GovernanceToday
In Interview
November 3, 2014

Dr. Murari Lal happens to be the only scientist from South Asia to be part of the select group of authors, for the four scientific assessment reports of climate change conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, continuously for the past two decades. In an interaction with Ekta Srivastava, Sr Correspondent, Governance Today, Dr Lal shares his aweinspiring journey as the atmospheric scientist…

Murari-lalHaving a doctorate degree in Geophysics and working and providing substantial scientific and technical assistance to various ministries and department of science and technology. How has been the journey so far ?
I obtained my master’s and doctoral degrees in Geophysics in the years 1969 and 1972 respectively from Banaras Hindu University. Though my core interest is in climate change, I started my career as a Junior Scientific Officer at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune in 1972. During the period 1975 to 1977, I joined the Atmospheric Environment Service in Canada as a National Research Council Post Doctorate Fellow. In 1977, I joined the Indian Meteorological Service and pursued the research in understanding the role of suspended particulates and other trace constituents present in the atmosphere on the energy partitioning within the earth-atmosphere system. And then I turned myself towards
the premier teaching institutes like IIT to pass on my professional knowledge of weather forecasting in India to younger generation. I joined IIT Delhi in 1981 and remained there for almost 23 years.

I have also closely interacted with the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Department of Science & Technology and Planning Commission of the Government of India in several committees on scientific, technical and policy matters related to the key multilateral environmental agreements and related United Nations conventions.

In the year 1992, I made my first contribution to the Supplementary Report on the First Scientific Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in 1992. Since then, I was closely associated with IPCC and have contributed to many technical and special reports and to second, third and fourth assessment reports and guidelines. I have also authored in scientific reports of the International Ozone Assessment Panel released in 1995 and 1999 and in Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) reports of the United Nations Environment Programme. My participation in Sixth Indian Antarctic Expedition in 1986 provided me with the ground realities in this Remote Icy Continent and developed keen interest in me to understand the key characteristics of vertical ozone profile and its significance to society apart from its impact on global climate.

Agriculture, being the highest contributor to India’s GDP, is lagging behind. How can we improve this ?
We are a country of 1.25 billion population. Our younger generation is strong enough to develop the skill to make the best use of a strong educational system in agricultural sciences, most advanced ground weather monitoring system as well as remotely sensed data, GIS tools for data visualization and the most advanced Informaton and Communications Technology and to think of new innovative researches. We need to think, how we can reach small scale farmers with real time guidance to facilitate them in their sustainable livelihood so that they can increase the agricultural productivity within limited land resource. They have to go for the alternate technology and develop ICT tools for providing district and block level Agricultural Marketing System what type of seeds should farmers opt for in the years to come or how to adapt to avert the adverse impacts of recurrent droughts and floods and other weather extremes which would exacerbate due to ongoing climate change in almost each State of India, the erratic behaviour of monsoon rainfall has become a regular feature in this century with more pronounced intra-seasonal and interannual variability – when part of India is reeling under drought, other part has to cope with extreme floods. How to make the best use of the available weather data into real time advisory for farmers for gaining more productivity would be the most critical challange for weathermen and climatologists in India. How to set the cropping calendar in a State of India to derive the best from ongoing seasonal weather that is where the farmers need to be told in advance of the season. There is a lot of genetic research that is being done by the agriculture scientists across the country. India has invested so much into the ICAR and Agriculture Universities, in creating research and development infrastructure and knowledge bank to feed into the required advancement in skill of youths. They need to integrate the weather information and forecast into finding out ways on how to produce more with less and less or limited land resources, limited water and limited capacity of the soil
to grow. Because this is what is needed and required to continue to feed the growing population in the largest democracy of the world. Likewise,
Ministry of Water Resources, Central Water Commission and affiliated institutions need to mainstream the adverse impacts of climate change into creation of new infrastructures for ensuring water for all (likely to be a scarce commodity in not too distant future), and for flood protection etc and also for long term policy framework (including those being pursued for interlinking of rivers in the country) for sustainable development in the country.

How do you think technology can enhance the future of the rural India ?
Thanks to Sam Pitroda’s efforts, we have come to connect the entire country in 21st century. But only a handful of population in the villages still  have access to mobile and lesser number is aware or fully conversant with the new technology being provided in the mobile sets, like SMS, IVRS. So, here we need to reach out to farmers, inform them in advance about the technological advancements, which they can use to minimise the damage to their crops. Particularly when there is need for a better understanding of adapting to practical approaches for sustaining food productivity in the face of more erratic weather to support their livelihood. So use the weather information effectively for benefits of farmers. Same way, there is other sector like water where a lot needs to be done. The projects for rainwater harvesting need to be strictly monitored to reap any tangible benefit for future benefit and must be more vigorously pursued across India to reverse the current trend of depleting ground water in many states like Punjab and Haryana which today hold the key to food security for majority of the population in the country. The new government has taken several major initiatives towards provision for water and sanitation for all and is gearing up to take stronger measures to provide health to all – Indeed, in India where majority of the population lives inthe rural areas (where many children  are still suffering from malnutrition etc.) – reaching out to them with all the facilities is a tough and challenging task. However, taking cue for the application of advanced technology in all sectors in the developed world, we can collectively build future of rural India at a faster pace.

What is your message to the young scientists of the country, even those who are migrating ?
Development in ICT in India has made it possible now which we couldn’t have imagined 30 years ago. And with a strong and high class technological education system in India, this is the responsibility of our young scientists to make the best use of the existing infrastructure and R&D facilities in India and apply their knowledge into producing something which benefits the society and the country. The technology needs to be used in this country for reducing the losses and damage from natural disasters and for the general wellbeing of the society. This country has a lot of opportunities, all they need to have is to develop a vision on how they could contribute their knowledge and skills to the betterment of the country and the society.