Union minister Harsh Vardhan today lauded Indian scientists’ contribution to the world’s biggest telescope which would enable astronomers to observe the intricacies of the universe from the comfort of the earth. Vardhan said the site for the telescope — a multi- million dollar project being developed by an international consortium including India– was still being finalised. Hanle in Ladakh was one of the sites being explored. “The sites would be evaluated for technical and logistical suitability,” the minister of Science and Technology said, hailing Indian scientists as among the best in the world.
India’s contribution to the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) project would be “more in terms of hardware” than money, he said, adding that India would spend Rs 1,300-crore on it. The ambitious next-generation TMT is to be built at an estimated cost of USD 1.47 billion by an international consortium consisting of institutions from India, the United States, Canada, Japan and China.
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“India is collaborating with the US, Japan, and other countries for the world’s biggest telescope project. It’s a matter of great pride for us that our material would be used in it,” Vardhan said. Addressing a gathering at a workshop for journalists at the CSIR’s Anusandhan Bhawan here, he said construction was expected to start at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, but protests by locals in that part of the US had stalled the project.
India is a 10 per cent partner in this global project. On the Indian side, the project is being handled by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Department of Atomic Energy. The gigantic telescope, scheduled to be ready by 2020, will provide astronomers with unparallelled power to observe the universe.
From the Indian side, the project would be led by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore, with the help of the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Nainital, and Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune. “I have been to several scientific laboratories and research centres in the country and have met top scientists in the US too. But, I can tell you, our scientists are a notch above and not a notch less than those people,” Vardhan said.
At the day-long workshop jointly organised by his ministry and the Delhi Journalists Association, the minister lamented that reportage on science-related subjects was being elbowed out by “sensational news items” driven by politics and other issues. In his address, Vardhan reiterated that India was a world leader historically in various fields and that Prime Minister Narenda Modi had reposed “extraordinary faith” in the abilities of Indian scientists.
“We should look to our ancient wisdom and knowledge to draw inspiration. But the moment I say something like that some people and the media start accusing us of saffronisation,” he said. To drive home the point, Vardhan recounted how the “grandson of (Italian inventor) Marconi had acknowledged the contribution of J C Bose on wireless transmission”.
The minister also recalled the contribution of Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Syama Prasad Mookerjee in building “great institutions” after Independence. “In many institutions, I see foundation stones laid by first prime minister Nehru, first president Dr Rajendra Prasad and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, whose death anniversary we are observing today. These institutions are a testimony to their vision and contribution,” Vardhan said.
Describing the work of the 75-year-old Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) as the “tip of the iceberg”, he hailed its contribution to science, saying the CSIR ranked 12th among some 1,200 government-funded research institutions globally.