THE plagiarism case involving Kumaun University Vice-Chancellor B.S. Rajput and his student Suresh Chandra Joshi would perhaps not have come to light but for a public proclamation in May including interviews to the local press by Joshi that he had been selected for the "Abdus Salam International Award" of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy, for his work on `String Theory and Blackholes', the subject of his thesis and the plagiarised Joshi-Rajput paper.
The Vice-Chancellor too had apparently issued congratulatory messages in the university bulletin and mention of it is reported to have appeared in the university brochure as well stating that the award winning work had been carried out under the guidance of Rajput. After this Joshi also went to Trieste for a fortnight in June.
Not being directly informed of the award by Joshi, the Physics Department head, Kavita Pandey, apparently asked Joshi on his return to provide her with the details of the award. Joshi submitted a copy of a letter written by Seif Randjbar-Daemi, head of the high-energy physics division of the ICTP, in April informing him of the honour that carried a cash award of Euro 1,500 (about Rs. 71,700). The letter (a copy of which is with Frontline) aroused Pandey's suspicion about its authenticity and she e-mailed to the ICTP seeking clarification, upon which she was informed that Joshi had only been invited to attend an Introductory School on String Theory, and that no award was given to him and that the claim was a total fabrication.
Thus began the investigation into the work that was claimed to have got him the award and, being a relativistic astrophysicist herself, she was aware of Kallosh's work, but had not suspected this, says Pandey. But when she became aware of its plagiarisation by Joshi and Rajput, she went public on June 23. Alongside, she sought Ashoke Sen's and his colleagues' help to dig into other papers of Rajput as well that ultimately led to the creation of the web site.
Frontline sent Randjbar-Daemi a scanned file of the purported award certificate. Randjbar-Daemi replied: "We compared the letter in your message to the invitation letter to Mr. Joshi which I have signed on the 4th of April 2002. It seems to us that that letter has been "reconstructed" to look like the one that you have sent to me."
The ICTP scientist also provided the following information on what happened following press reporting on the awarin May: "Professor Narain of my section had sent an e-mail to Joshi asking for an explanation of all this mess. Joshi replied in a very apologetic way saying that it was some journalists who had created the story. On the basis of this explanation we decided not to withdraw the invitation to him and permitted him to attend the School. So he came here and participated in our School without mentioning anything about the "prize" to me. I hope that this story will come to a just end soon."
On being asked by Frontline specifically as to why the invitation to the school held in June was not revoked even though plagiarism had been discovered in May itself, Kumar Narain said: "(W)hen we invite people from developing countries, whose travel expenses are paid by us, we normally send them pre-paid round trip tickets. In Joshi's case (as far as I remember) that was already done before we came to know about both the ICTP award-claim as well as plagiarism. Upon knowing these facts I sent an e-mail to Joshi for clarification. His `explanation' was not satisfactory at all. But nevertheless, we decided to give him the benefit of doubt. This was because I was not sure whether Joshi being a young student was not being forced by his supervisor to carry out such malpractice. Instead, I decided to confront him with this issue while he was at ICTP. However, his "explanations'' here were as unsatisfactory as in his e-mail''.
``I hope this story will come to a just end soon,'' remarked Randjbar-Daemi.