Published: Saturday 31 May 1997

N. Raghuram replies:

Though B C Sharma paints a very rosy picture of niscom and ahead , he fails to explain why the scientists and staff went on strike for several months and why a Central Bureau of Investigation enquiry has been instituted to look into the affairs of the institute. He hides the fact that he also faces several charges alongwith G P Phondke and Biman Basu, the director of niscom and ahead . Moreover, the government has appointed K D Sanghal, retired communications secretary, on yet another fact-finding mission according to an agreement signed with the niscom joint action committee ( jac ) on February 3, 1997. The powers of G P Phondke have been curtailed for the duration of the enquiry and Sharma and Basu "will not exercise any authority normally vested in them".

The fact remains (and Sharma does not seem to deny it) that ahead utilises niscom 's infrastructure, personnel and knowledge protected by copyright. There is no evidence to prove that niscom and its employees have benefited, financially or otherwise, from ahead 's activities and earnings. Sharma is also silent on the issue of ahead holding the copyright on the cd-rom s, which are based on information essentially generated by niscom .

Indian users do not have access to cd-rom facilities and, on the basis of their experiences in the Wealth of India reference series project, several scientists of niscom feel that the cd-rom project benefits the West and deprives Indian users. They have complained that their efforts are increasingly being diverted into the cd-rom project. They claim that some volumes are out of stock but have not been sent for reprinting despite having been updated several months ago.

The official point of view could not be obtained in spite of our concerted efforts as Phondke, Basu and Sharma were on leave, and other senior scientists of ahead were not willing to comment or clarify anything in their absence. This also reflects the level of transparency and public accountability in the organisation.

Our report does not suggest that the information generated by niscom/ ahead is secret or classified, or that idrc would walk away with the earnings of ahead . Similarly, there was no attempt to give the impression that Phondke is not the first and the only director of ahead .

Sharma may have his own opinions on whether things came to a sorry pass with Phondke taking over as director of ahead , but the fact that several scientists have either left or took recourse to prolonged agitation to express their frustration, does reflect on his leadership. Finally, the enquiry committees are the arbiters of the case, not Down To Earth ....

Above board ?not quite

The article 'Whose wealth' ( Down To Earth , Vol 5, No 16) is based on incomplete and incorrect information and is thus misleading. In the interest of fair reporting, the writer should have contacted G P Phondke, executive director of ahead (Asian Health, Environment and Allied Databases), to know the correct position.

The National Institute of Science Communication ( niscom ) is the managing organisation of ahead which is being funded by the International Development Research Centre ( idrc) , Canada, for six years with a view to establishing a self-sustaining organisation thereafter. Seven other Asian organisations are also participating in ahead. T hey send information to niscom for data processing, publication in cd-rom format and for marketing.

There is no question of "hampering the quest for scientific knowledge in India" by the publication of ahead cd s. The cd s are based on the printed version of niscom 's Wealth of India series and both the versions are freely available in India. In fact, Indian users now have access to additional information gathered by other Asian organisations through the cd version. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that "Indian users will be deprived of scientific information".

It is also highly tendentious to suggest that niscom is serving "Indian knowledge on a platter to the West" through cd-rom publication. The information is not secret or classified. It was always available in printed form and like any publisher, niscom was only making efforts to increase sales world-wide. It may surprise your correspondent to know that the bulk of the sales of cd s is in India itself. The revenue generated remains under the control of the managing organisation ( niscom ) and is being put in a reserve fund, to be used for meeting operating expenses of the project when idrc funding ceases after six years.

As the lead organisation of ahead , niscom has gained access to the new cd - rom publishing technology and it plans to bring out cd versions of its other publications also.

It may also be pointed out that G P Phondke is the first and only executive director of ahead so far and so there is no justification for the comment "Things came to a sorry pass with G P Phondke taking over as ahead executive director." Your report represents a biased view and is unworthy of a serious magazine. The report has done grave injustice to G P Phondke, niscom and ahead. ...

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