A journalistic tribute to Dr P M Bhargava

Having known Late Dr P M Bhargava for last three decades, former leading journalist and now COO of ABLE, Narayanan Suresh recalls his association with him besides giving a journalistic account of his interactions with veteran scientist

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New Delhi: One of the finest first generation scientists of India, Dr Pushpa Mitra Bhargava was a pioneer in the field of biotechnology in India and instrumental in the formation of the Department of Biotechnology in the 1970s. Born on February 22, 1928, Dr Bhargava passed away at the age of 89 on July 1, 2017. His death has been widely condoled by scientific fraternity with rich homages.

Speaking to the BioVoice News, his long time colleague, friend, and observer, Mr Narayanan Suresh who has been a witness to Dr Bhargava’s visionary leadership while founding the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, called him a visionary and upright scientist.

“He was no doubt a scientist par excellence and an asset to Indian science. Dr Bhargava’s integrity was such that he personally oversaw each aspect of CCMB’s foundation. Lot many of today’s well-known scientists were mentored by him those days,” said Suresh, who as a journalist and science editor has extensively covered the sector in the past and has been a witness to the development and shaping up of the sector in last three decades.

It is important to note that Dr Bhargava and Suresh had together edited the India edition of Nature magazine for eight years.

As per Suresh, Dr Bhargava was instrumental in getting the funds for CCMB sanctioned by then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Getting nostalgic about his days of association with him that date back to the foundation of the CCMB itself, Suresh recalls the day when the inaugural function of the building was held and he had attended the same. “Dr Bhargava could think of 20-30 years ahead with his vision. He was a thinker who envisioned the need for institutions in India and in that pursuit, created a world class laboratory. He had the maturity and depth to think ahead of times,” mentioned Suresh while pointing out to an occasion when he had created a sort of digital paper on one of his birthdays. “His own laboratory was simple and he had a bent for artistic creations.”

“During the 1990s,” Suresh informs, “Dr Bhargava provided all the incubation support to Mr K I Varaprasad Reddy who had founded the Shantha Biotechnics. then a small startup research unit. The CCMB scientists were instrumental in the development, testing and evaluation of the rDNA vaccine, later launched under the brand name `Shanvac’. It was country’s first genetically engineered rDNA vaccine for Hepatitis B in 1997.”

In the last few years, Dr Bhargava was not seen much at the scientific congregations due to his contrarian views. “He was very vocal in his criticism on GM crops and host of other administrative issues. He was entitled to hold his views despite disagreements. However, despite the whatsoever differences, one would have with him, he was a person who stood by his principles till end. He continued to be active despite having a bad health,” concluded Suresh who is now the Chief Operating Officer at the Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises.