Poised for a leap'

Print edition : November 05, 2010

Anuj Sinha: Many of our activity books have had repeat print runs.-R. SHIVAJI RAO

ANUJ SINHA is the Honorary Director of Vigyan Prasar. Excerpts of an interview he gave Frontline:

Which activities of Vigyan Prasar have really succeeded? How can these be used to promote V.P.?

Vigyan Prasar in its brief history has attempted many innovative projects. We composed a ready-to-print full page on science with a weekly frequency, which many newspapers published with a change in masthead. The project was moving towards self-sustenance when the TV boom arrived. We learnt early use of the web with a popular e-magazine, COMCOM. This attracted many experts, who contributed to the online discussion forums and other features.

The exhibition on wheels was mooted by Shri M.V. Kamath, Chairman, governing body. This special train had 12 coaches and, in a period of about eight months, visited over 50 places. This was a forerunner to the Science Express of the National Council of Science and Technology Communication [NCSTC], which we have designed and operated over the last four years. Many of our activity books have had repeat print runs. Our portal has many features that compel repeat visits by teachers, communicators and activists.

You were the head of the NCSTC. Which organisation is more suited to achieving the objectives of science communication and dissemination?

Vigyan Prasar was conceived to provide operational leverage to science communication. The roles of these organisations have been well etched out and are complementary. This institute is for research and development and large-scale dissemination of books, CD ROMs, kits, etc. The NCSTC, on the other hand, helps in policy formulation and considers grant-in-aid for innovative project proposals from scientists in laboratories, universities and voluntary organisations.

In many national campaigns, the two organisations have leveraged their respective strengths to deliver good resource material for use by activists. The Planet Earth Campaign (2008/10), Year of Astronomy (2009) and Year of Biodiversity (2010) witnessed close collaboration [between the organisations]. We are working on components of the Year of Chemistry (2011) with each other.

What are the activities V.P. can diversify into?

The first two decades have established the fundamentals of Vigyan Prasar and it is poised for a leap. The next phase should focus on developing innovative communication material for gender empowerment, addressing needs of neoliterates and increasing our footprint in technology communication. There is scope for improving the capacity for rational decision-making in large sections of the society. The means and media will have to match the requirements of the trainers, communicators and activists.

Do you think the strength of V.P. has to be increased if it is to assume a bigger role?

We are increasing our reach and will raise resources from different agencies, including greater support from the parent department. Recently, the UNFPA [the United Nations Population Fund] assigned us a task through competitive bidding. We are discussing partnering with other agencies to leverage our streng-ths. A lesson from my long experience of working has been that good programmes do not suffer because of resource constraints.

There is a general feeling that the marketing reach of V.P. needs to be improved substantially. How do you think this can be achieved?

I agree. With low-priced quality products, the lack of interest of private distributors is not unexpected. Sales at exhibitions are encouraging, but such exposures are designed generally for branding and exposure. The issue has not been resolved satisfactorily. We are increasing sales outlets while facilitating e-payment. We are examining new opportunities, and shortly our products and publications will be on sale in many towns and cities.

V.P.'s programmes on Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR) do not seem to get prime time slots. How can this be remedied?

Prasar Bharati and its constituents AIR and DD value the necessity and importance of quality science programmes. Within the space for negotiation, we drive bargains for good slots. With both AIR and DD, there is better visibility on the regional language stations than on the national channel. We are increasing the number of programmes, adding more variety and exploring more channels to reach audiences.

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