Pushpa Bhargava, Scientist And Activist, Dies At 89

Jacob Koshy Serish Naninsetti

Veteran molecular biologist and a vehement critic of genetically modified crops, Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, died at his home in Hyderabad on Tuesday (1 Aug 2017). . He was 89. He is survived by a son and daughter.

Dr Bhargava, while active, had recently developed kidney complications and was undergoing dialysis. This morning he had a fever and was resting at home, said Rakesh Mishra, Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, He passed away in his sleep. Bhargava was the founding director of the CCMB.

Though Bhargava had ceased to be an active researcher for over 20 years, he remained engaged with issues in science and policy. A strident critic of multinational seed companies, Bhargava was opposed to the introduction of genetically modified crops from cotton to brinjal and, most recently, transgenic mustard in India. His argument was that these crops posed health hazards and required decades more of tests before possible clearance.

He had led what came to be called the Award Wapsi programme in 2015 when scientists and litterateurs returned their awards against what they called rising tide of intolerance in the country.

He however, didnt confine himself only to matters of science. In 2015, Bhargava was among the scientists who returned his Padma Bhushan in solidarity with writers and artistes protesting the climate of religious conservatism and underlined by incidents such as the murder of scholar, M.M. Kalburgi, and the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh . The Dadri incident in which Mohamed Akhlaq was lynched in a pre-planned manner (probably by fringe elements that are related to BJP) showed the control that BJP wants to have on what we may eat and what we may not, just as it wants to control what we may wear or whom we may love or what we may read, the scientists had said.

Bhargava also moved the Supreme Court against an initiative by former education minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, to introduce astrology in universities.

He was a tireless crusader against irrationality and superstition. He had the ability to connect seemingly disparate dots and had an overarching vision about the future. Honest and upright to a fault, he was fearless when it came to his beliefs, said Chandana Chakrabarti, who worked with Bhargava at CCMB and co-authored The Saga of Indian Science since Independence with him. The book is a unflinching look at the failings of Indian scientific establishment.

It is a great loss for the country. He brought modern cell and molecular biology to India. Prior to the CCMB there was no lab for research on cell, DNA and molecular biology. Public understanding of science, interaction with government and policy makers was his forte. He was a great talent scout, said D. Balasubramanian, who was a professor with the University of Hyderabad when he was inducted into Centre by Bhargava as his deputy.

Bhargava was chairman of the Drafting Committee for the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill 2013. The Bill was the culmination of a 15-year struggle as he mobilised and marshalled support by meeting legislators and policy makers. The draft Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2016. However, Bhargava opposed the ban on surrogacy, instead calling for protection of the rights of surrogate mothers.

Bhargava was also vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission. In his role as a founder director of CCMB, he also invigorated the art scene in Hyderabad by inviting artistes from across the country and creating a residency programme.

Scientists and officials of CCMB expressed their grief at the demise of Mr. Bhargava. He remained deeply engaged in social issues, particularly those relating to the impact of science on society in India and the world. His extraordinary energy and commitment will continue to always inspire us in our future endeavours. He will be greatly missed, said the staff.


Courtesy: The Hindu