April 28, 2003
Doyen of monsoon forecasting Dr Vachaspati Thapliyal seems to be the first major casualty of the monsoon forecasting revamp that has taken place in the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Thapliyal, known as the father of the old monsoon prediction model, has resigned from the IMD after over 33 years of service. He had 15 months left.
A trained mountaineer, Thapliyal was the scientific brain behind the 16-parameter monsoon-forecasting model used by the Indian met office since 1988. His insight into the dynamics of the monsoons and his pleasant demeanour had been the highlight of the annual end-of-May press conferences held at Mausam Bhawan in New Delhi. His absence at this year’s event was noticed. For the past four years, Thapliyal has been deputy director general of weather forecasting at IMD’s office in Pune, responsible not only for long-range forecasting but also for the much-sought-after weather advisories used by key sectors like aviation, shipping and defence. Along with Vasanth Gowrikar, the then secretary of the department of science and technology, Thapliyal had evolved the model which helped to make the monsoon forecast for the past 14 years — that model was dumped this year.
Having suffered a major setback in failing to accurately predict the drought of 2002, IMD completely revamped its monsoon forecasting system, not only adopting a new model but also changing many crucial predictors. Based on the new model, IMD has predicted a ‘below normal’ monsoon. Thapliyal was not part of the team which put together the new system. Asked for his opinion on the new models, Thapliyal said ‘‘until scientific details are made available by IMD, how can I comment on the new model?’’
Pressed to say if he was resigning in protest or was being made a scapegoat for last year’s debacle, Thapliyal was evasive. ‘‘I have done enough of long-range forecasting and now I want to pursue a spiritual life,’’ he said. He ruled out joining any international organisation though he has had many offers since he says ‘‘knowledge based on my expertise could only be used to harm the interests of India’’.
Born in Uttaranchal in 1944 and trained as a geophysicist at the Banaras Hindu University, he had published about 90 research papers in his three decades at IMD. ‘‘Thapliyal resigned on personal grounds,’’ confirmed V S Ramamurthy, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology.
‘‘Seeking premature retirement is the right of every government servant and changing the monsoon forecasting model was the right of the IMD,’’ he said, cautioning that it may be a little early to pen the obituary for the old monsoon model.
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