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doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.100 Published online 1 August 2017

Indian science loses its voice of dissent P M Bhargava

Subhra Priyadarshini

Pushpa Mittra Bhargava (1928-2017)

Eminent molecular biologist Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, best known for his ‘call a spade, a spade’ attitude and as the founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), passed away at his residence in Uppal, near Hyderabad today (1 August 2017). He was 89.

A doctorate in synthetic organic Chemistry from Lucknow University, Bhargava worked at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology and then Osmania University before he envisioned and set up the CCMB in Hyderabad in 1977, in the throes of Emergency in India. 

In 2015, Bhargava famously returned India’s third highest civilian honour the Padma Bhushan which he had received in 1986, as a mark of protest towards the ‘growing culture of intolerance in the country’. He has always been the ‘rebel with a cause’ for India’s science. Earlier, he had also returned the fellowships of all three national academies of science – the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in New Delhi, the Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS) in Bangalore and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Allahabad – on ‘ethical grounds’. 

Bhargava was greatly involved in activities that straddled the ‘science, society and culture’ sphere, advocating strongly for a culture of scientific temperament in the country and pushing for science that is socially relevant. He was quick to react to any issue that, in his opinion, was not backed by science – be it filing a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the government’s attempt to introduce astrology in Universities, or opposing introduction of genetically-modified food crops.

Bhargava was the chairman of gratuitous organisations such as the Medically Aware and Responsible Citizens of Hyderabad; the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal, and the Basic Research, Education and Development Society (BREAD), New Delhi. He also served as the Vice-Chairman of the National Knowledge Commission during 2005-07. He received the French Legion d’Honneur in 1998.