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An ocean of experience and the will to be a pioneer


NEW DELHI, MAY 16: The past 40 years of his life have been dedicated to ocean research and development in India, and the little world of marine animals. To the world outside, Dr Syed Zahoor Qasim is better known as the father of Oceanography and polar research in India.

Qasim was recently awarded the Oceanology International (Pacific Rim '99) Lifetime Achievement award for outstanding contribution to marine science in Singapore.

He received the Padma Shri award in 1974, and the Padma Bhushan in 1982. He also enjoys the honour of being the only Indian scientist to be invited by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UNESCO to deliver the prestigious Anton Bruun Memorial Lecture in 1986 and the Roger Revelle Memorial Lecture in 1994, Paris. If one were to go through his list of achievements of Qasim, one would probably lose count of the many firsts in his kitty. He was the first secretary of the Department of Environment and the first secretary of the Department of Ocean Development (from 1981 to 1988). He started the Indian Antarctic Programme and was the leader of the first Antarctic expedition, which hoisted the Indian flag on Antarctica on January 9, 1982. ``The expedition was flagged off in six months after it was announced by the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. We failed four times...

and the fifth time it was unbelievable. There was this tremendous feeling of achievement and victory, when the entire team landed on Antarctica. We couldn't stop kissing the land, it was like a dream that came true,'' remembers Qasim. The success of this expedition led to seven more expeditions, India had finally cracked the ice. ``The first thing we did was to visit our neighbours, the Russians, who were stationed about 60 km away.

They simply couldn't believe that the Indians had finally arrived,'' he laughed. Back in India, Qasim was instrumental in founding the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa, where he later held the post of Chairman of the Research Council. He has also been a Member (Science and Technology) of the Indian Planning Commission from 1991 to 1996. ``Personally, I have been quite involved in hydrographic work, which I feel forms a basis for all oceanographic research, whether or not it is a coastal zone or open ocean.

Under the coastal zone, the concern is largely with the environmental problems, and conservation of endangered eco-systems like mangroves, coral reefs,'' he says. And having laid the foundation stone for oceanographic research in India, he feels that India lags behind no other country. Says he: ``Presently, there are two major semi-government organisations in India that deal with ocean sciences in totality the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), besides the Department of Ocean Development (DOD), which is basically a funding body. We also have a number of Non-Governmental Organisations and private agencies, that use some of the institutions for sponsored research related to specific tasks. The Society for Indian Ocean Studies is one such voluntary agency devoted to creating awareness about the Indian Ocean.'' For the coming century, he feels that new priorities are needed to match the changing global scenario. And that these should be inthe areas of new materials, bio-technology and genetics, mining, robotics, energy, remote sensing, environmental protection, tourism and recreation. ``Each sector will provide challenges and a sense of optimism to ensure that the sea will be able to fulfill all our needs,'' he says.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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