Obituary: A Tribute to Prof Baldev Raj (1947-2018)
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Dr. Baldev Raj, Director, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, passed away in Pune on 7 January 2018 at the age of 71 after a massive heart attack. A recipient of Padma Shri award and the former Director of Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalapakkam, with his demise the country has lost an eminent nuclear scientist, academic, thought leader and a mentor to thousands of scientists and students. He was a great champion of indigenization.

I met Dr. Baldev first time in Kalapakkam in 2012 where I had gone to familiarize myself with the indigenous Fast Breeder Reactor. I was struck by his deep knowledge about science, vison for the country and modesty. Taking time out of his busy schedule, Dr. Baldev Raj spent a whole day with our team explaining the intricacies of the fast breeder reactor which uses highly corrosive and toxic liquid sodium as a coolant. He was proud that India had mastered the fast breeder technology which had been abandoned by most countries. Today, a prototype of the fast breeder reactor is functional and India is well set to start a commercial fast breeder reactor. This is thanks to the efforts of scientists like Baldev Raj.

Dr. Baldev Raj was not a just a nuclear scientist. He was deeply interested in building Indian scientific and technological capabilities in all areas of science. He was very positive about India’s capacity to emerge as global leader in high tech science and technology.

After his retirement from IGCAR, Dr. Baldev Raj joined the NIAS in Bengaluru in 2014. In his new role as Director, he catalyzed the institution, emphasized multi-disciplinary research and brought close synergy between science and policy research. I had the honour of interacting with him closely on several issues of science policy when I was the Deputy National Security Adviser at the National Security Council Secretariat during the 2014-17 period. He arranged a number of courses in science and policy which our experts attended. Dr. Baldev Raj was always concerned that unless India developed indigenous capacities, it would remain vulnerable to outside pressures.

Dr. Baldev Raj headed a major task force set up by the Mistry of Defence (MoD) on making the country self-reliant in strategic materials needed for defence applications. He brought together diverse scientific and technical institutions and produced a highly informative report which not only outlined the demand and supply scenario for strategic minerals in the country but also suggested an institutional framework and a roadmap for achieving this. Dr. Baldev Raj made a detailed presentation to the top officials in MoD some months ago. It was decided that necessary approvals of the government would be taken to implement the recommendations. When I met him last in November 2016, he seemed concerned at the slow progress in implementation of the recommendations.

Another task force that he headed was on rare earths, which have applications in military and non-military areas. India is deficient in the extraction and making of the rare earths and relies for its needs on imports, mostly from China. The recommendations of the task forces are under the consideration of the Government and it is hoped that these will be acted upon soon. That will be a fitting tribute to the departed soul.

It is painful to hear about the untimely death of the Dr. Baldev Raj. The last time we met, we had agreed that VIF and NIAS would work jointly to take forward the cause of indigenization of science and technology.

In his passing away, we have lost a staunch nationalist, and I, a personal friend with whom I often discussed issues of science and policy. May God give him peace. His work and contribution will stay with us for long

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