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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
India's unlikely nuclear recruits

By Monica Chadha
BBC news, Mumbai

Bhabha reactor
The Bhabha plant is at the forefront of India's nuclear research

As one of India's premier nuclear research institutes, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is renowned for its research and development activities.

Like other top Indian establishments, it strives to recruit the brightest and the best.

But unlike other institutions, many staff employed by BARC come from some of the poorest and most backward parts of India.

Situated in Trombay in eastern Mumbai (Bombay), the campus of BARC is a planned, unending stretch of laboratories, buildings and parks.

It is within these laboratories that some of the country's best brains carry out research and development in nuclear power technology and its application in nuclear weapons, nuclear fuel fabrication, agriculture, medicine and food processing.

Gagan Gupta
I've always wanted to conduct research into the safety of nuclear reactors and this is the only place where I will get a chance to pursue it
Engineering graduate Gagan Gupta

The BARC workforce is a strong indicator that India's scientific expertise is not just restricted to the cities and to its elite academic institutions.

SP Garg is the BARC's Associate Director of Knowledge Management and says there is too much talent in the country to be absorbed by elite institutions alone.

In 2005, of the 10,028 science and engineering graduates who applied to BARC only 382 candidates were accepted.

Mr Garg said BARC gets most of its trainees from small towns and some of its best engineers hail from Bihar, one of India's poorest states.

There is intense competition to recruit the brightest and the best

"You'd be surprised by this but it has been the case for the last 30 years."

Bihar is perhaps better known for its lawlessness and high crime rate than the quality of its scientists.

Mr Garg said that sometimes applicants to BARC cannot speak English, so interviews are conducted in regional languages such as Hindi and Gujarati.

"But that has not hampered research at all.

"If you look at our space research or atomic energy programme the progress profile has improved in the last 20 years in leaps and bounds," he says.

Despite the optimism, there is little doubt Mr Garg would also like engineers from elite institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) to apply to BARC.

'Financial rewards'

But few IIT students are interested in working for an organisation that is basically run by the government.

The Dean of Research and Development at IIT Mumbai, Kartic Khilar, says government organisations will need to compete with private industries in terms of salary and work environment to attract their talent.

Deepa Thomas
I will get a chance to help deal with the country's energy crisis, and I believe it's a good thing if we can do something for our nation
Deepa Thomas

"Most IIT engineering graduates look for a better professional career with full potential for financial rewards as well as a challenging work environment," he said.

"An emerging trend is students opting to become entrepreneurs soon after their graduation."

Luckily for BARC, of the 170,000 engineering degree graduates India produced last year, a significant number believed it was the best professional choice for them.

Deepa Thomas is the daughter of a mechanical engineer father and teacher mother, and was brought up in the Kollam district in the southern state of Kerala.

After completing her engineering course, she joined BARC in 2005 because she wanted to participate in the country's nuclear programme.

High salary

"I will get a chance to help deal with the country's energy crisis, and I believe it's a good thing if we can do something for our nation," she said.

Engineering graduate Gagan Gupta joined BARC because he was always interested in research.

Hailing from the small town of Alwar in the western state of Rajasthan, he says he knew from the start that this is where he would end up.

"I was selected for a Master's programme in IIT but I gave it up when I got my acceptance letter from here," he says.

"I've always wanted to conduct research into the safety of nuclear reactors and this is the only place where I will get a chance to pursue it."

"My father deals in motor parts and does not have a science background, yet he is so proud that I am doing something that will help India.

"Most importantly he wants to know when I will be able to do something about the severe power shortage we face in Alwar."

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