When Vilasrao Deshmukh was moved out of the Ministry of Rural Development in 2011, he was sent to Science and Technology. A year later, when S Jaipal Reddy was relieved of Petroleum, it was once again the Ministry of S&T that accommodated him. And on Sunday, when Dr Harsh Vardhan was discharged from Health, S&T is where he headed to.
In between, several others — Prithviraj Chavan, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Ashwani Kumar — have graced the minister’s office at Anusandhan Bhawan. Most of them, like Harsh Vardhan’s predecessor Jitendra Singh, were juggling three or four portfolios at the same time. Harsh Vardhan is the eighth S&T minister in the last five years, counting only those with cabinet status or independent charge.
Kapil Sibal was the last to head S&T for a full term. This was during UPA-I, and he had only S&T and Earth Sciences. “He used to take a lot of interest in the ministries. He would often call officers and enquire whether there was something new or extra that could be done,” said an official with the Department of Science and Technology.
UPA-II saw Sibal followed by six ministers, and the two ministries have since run mostly on auto-pilot mode. Sibal’s immediate successor, Chavan, was tied up with other responsibilities, including as MoS in the PMO.
The Modi government’s first minister for science and technology, Jitendra Singh who had independent charge, handled exactly the same kind of responsibilities as Chavan did. Singh did go to the ministries often but he had much else on his plate, including party work, especially when his constituency, Jammu, heads for elections.
T Ramasamy, secretary in DST for eight years before retiring this year, said the change of ministers never led to a discontinuance of policies. “Money was provided whenever needed and there has been a progressive increase in the budget. There were no abrupt changes in policy either. I don’t think the ministry suffered in any way because of change of ministers,” he said.
Since Ramasamy’s retirement, there has been no full-time DST secretary. K Vijay Raghavan, secretary, Department of Biotechnology, has been holding additional charge of DST since May. He also holds additional charge of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, which runs the CSIR and its laboratories and which has been without a secretary since April.