Has a premier scientific institution forced a decorated scientist to leave the country for good, even though the pronounced policy of the Government is to reverse the brain drain by attracting Indian talent to come back?

About two months ago, a recipient of the coveted SS Bhatnagar (SSB) Prize in 2017 resigned from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), as he was reportedly denied leave to work in a foreign university in the Middle East which offered him a temporary position. This has happened at a time when the Government claims it has succeeded in reversing the brain drain by attracting a number of scientists of Indian origin, working in academic and research institutions abroad, to come back.

Vinay Gupta, a senior level scientist at the advanced materials and devices division at CSIR-NPL, won the SSB Prize — the most prestigious award given to an Indian scientist below the age of 45 — for physics for his work on organic photovoltaic cells in 2017. Incidentally, the laurel came in the way of CSIR-NPL after a gap of 49 years, according to a scientist at the laboratory.

According to his SSB Prize citation, Gupta works in diverse fields relating to organic solar cells and carbon nanomaterials. Such polymer-based solar films are at the heart of next-gen solar energy harvesting systems that make wearable electronics a reality.

When contacted, CSIR-NPL Director Dinesh Kumar Aswal told BusinessLine that Gupta decided to resign from the institute as he received a research scientist position at the Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. “Who am I to stop somebody looking for greener pastures,” Aswal asked.

However, certain official documents that this reporter accessed revealed a different story. It showed that Gupta first applied for leave without pay for six months. Though NPL council — a committee of heads of departments and senior-most scientists at the institute — in a meeting in the last week of April cleared the proposal, the final decision was left to the Director. When it was denied, Gupta resigned from CSIR-NPL.

Aswal, who initially maintained Gupta resigned from the job, subsequently admitted that the scientist did apply for leave. But he argued that it was not him, but the NPL council which denied him the leave. The NPL council did not grant the leave for two reasons, he said. Firstly, it wanted the scientist to deliver on his promise of developing organic solar cells of 9 per cent efficiency. Secondly, “the NPL-council felt that he should work at NPL and deliver the promise he made before he is granted leave for going abroad again. Before the NPL council approved his visit to Japan for 3 months, he promised that after his return from Japan he will demonstrate (sic) that.”

However, when contacted by this correspondent, Gupta maintained that “the council approved my EOL (Extraordinary Leave) in the minutes of the meeting.” “But when it was sent for the Director’s signature, he refused to sign it,” Gupta added.

“As regards demonstrating 9 per cent efficiency in solar chips, the DNPL (the director) denied me funding from internal and external sources. Later, I wanted to work on a thin-film solar cell using 3D printing so I requested for 6 months EOL, which was denied. All these reasons led to my resignation,” Gupta said.