Guilty of plagiarism

Print edition : February 28, 2003

THE Commission of Inquiry instituted to investigate the charges of plagiarism (Frontline, December 20, 2002) against B.S. Rajput, physicist and Vice-Chancellor of Kumaon University, Nainital, has found him and his student Suresh Chandra Joshi guilty. The Commission was appointed on November 21, 2002, by S.S. Barnala, the former Governor of Uttaranchal, who was also the Chancellor of the university. It submitted its report on January 30.

In the wake of the indictment by the four-member panel, Rajput submitted his resignation on February 6 and Sudarshan Aggarwal, the new Governor and Chancellor of the University, has since appointed an acting Vice-Chancellor.

The Commission, headed by S.R. Singh, a retired Judge of the Allahabad High Court, comprised Indira Nath, a senior faculty member of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, K.B. Powar, the Secretary-General of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), New Delhi, and R. Rajaraman, a Professor of physics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Rajaraman was inducted into the panel on December 23, 2002, as an Expert Member in place of Virendra Singh of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), who had earlier been nominated on December 4, 2002. However, Singh declined on the grounds that he was a signatory to one of the complaints made to the authorities against Rajput.

The allegation of plagiarism, according to the report, was first made by Kavita Pandey, a faculty member of the university in a representation to the Chancellor on June 26, 2002, regarding academic irregularities committed by Rajput. This was followed by representations by physicists from various Indian research institutes and abroad. Specifically, a research paper on black holes published by Rajput and Joshi in March 2002 in the journal Europhysics Letters was a substantially plagiarised version of a paper published six years earlier in the October 1996 issue of Physical Review D under a different title by Renata Kallosh, a physicist from Stanford University. Indeed, Kallosh and six other Stanford University professors, three of them Nobel laureates, made a representation in the matter, to the President of India.

Before Rajaraman was inducted, the Commission had held two hearings, one in Dehra Dun and the other in New Delhi on December 8 and 10, 2002, respectively. The committee held one more hearing in New Delhi on January 28, after Rajaraman's induction. It addressed three basic issues: (a) whether the research paper published in Europhysics Letters has been substantially cribbed from the paper published by Kallosh and is an outcome of plagiarism? (b) whether Rajput was the co-author of the paper and, if so, is he guilty of plagiarism? and (c) whether Rajput and his associates are guilty of plagiarism in respect of any other work?

The second issue arose from the denial by Rajput of being a co-author and his statement that his name had been included by Joshi without his knowledge and consent. The Commission, however, did not consider it necessary to investigate the third issue as there had been no specific complaint by the original authors of the other works allegedly plagiarised by Rajput and his associates whose details had been supplied to the panel by Kavita Pandey.

On the first and the key issue, the report notes: "A bare comparison of the two works, not from the viewpoint of meticulous observer, but from the angle of average reasonable reader, would reveal complete similarity not only in all the mathematical equations but also in the word by word language used in the two works and the tone, tenor and manner of expression of ideas... This in our view is sufficient enough proof of plagiarism."

Europhysics Letters R. Ramachandran

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