India's herbal fuel travels from disbelief to certainty and finally rests in commotion
the herbal fuel invention claim ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 10) of P Ramar has entered the stage of a high drama, with scientists withdrawing themselves from the scene and politicians and public at large getting into the act. Less than a week after officials of the Union ministry's department of science and technology (dst) declared that Ramar's demonstration at the Indian Instititute of Technology, Madras, "could not establish the scientific validity of the claim", and that his use of a stirrer with fuel in it and a hole at the bottom plugged with wax showed that his claim is the result of "a dishonest act", Ramar gave a couple of 'successful' demonstrations in public, bringing the issue back to the centrestage.
On October 3, Ramar was in Hyderabad on the invitation of the Sanghi Group, a major industrial house in the region. He demonstrated his process in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium in front of several hundred people and a few scientists. The entire process was done on stage by Girish Sanghi, managing director of Sanghi industries, as per Ramar's instructions, with each utensil examined beforehand and each component of the recipe being shown before it was added. A small amount of the fuel 'produced' was taken out and ignited. The fuel burnt with a yellow flame attracting loud applause from the audience.
Interestingly, Ramar has not publicly explained anything as to why the Madras demonstration failed or why he used a metallic stirrer with a hole in it. No one at the Hyderabad function seems to have bothered about the mass balance problem either, as no measurements were made to ascertain the disparity, if any.
P M Bhargava, a renowned scientist and the former founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Mole-cular Biology, Hyderabad, dismissed the whole claim as a trick, saying that it lacked scientific credibility. Though he was not an eye-witness to the demonstration at Hyderabad, he preferred to rely on the dst 's approach to the issue. "There are a lot of lacunae in the demonstration. We are not keen to know his secrets, but the method should be scientifically valid" he says.
dst secretary V S Ramamurthy asserts that their attitude to Ramar's claim will not be affected by the 'success' of the demonstration at Hyderabad. "That was a public function, just one more in the series," he says, adding that dst will only go by the results of experiments performed under controlled conditions.
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