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Institution in Focus: ISS-Regional Centre Puducherry

The Critical Mirror has undertaken a quick review of a newly established social science institution in Puducherry. In India, research institutions are largely located in metropolitan and big cities. In this sense the starting of Institute of Social Sciences Regional Centre Puducherry (ISS-RCP) is a welcome initiative for decentralized research base of the country. The establishment and vibrancy of local research institutions could play a crucial role in shaping and strengthening the regional innovation system in the country. This review mainly concerns with the basic profile of the ISS-RCP and challenges that it is facing while working on issues concerning local economy and society.

The Starting of ISS-RCP

The ISS-RCP was established in November 2014 to meet the strongly felt need for an institution of excellence for social science research in the Union Territory of Puducherry. Its vision is to emerge as a premier institution of excellence for social science research with an interdisciplinary approach, advocacy, and outreach programmes on the thrust areas viz democracy, local governance, decentralisation-political and economic, role of youth in realizing panchayati raj/local governance, political economy, development, community development, women studies, human rights, transgender studies, health, education, labour, agriculture, and rural development with a regional focus. ISS-RCP has the mission, in addition to its research and advocacy, to create informed public opinion, recommend policy and contribute to the discourses on participatory democracy, local governance, and development of Puducherry.

Mr. V. Selvam, Founder-Regional Director, Regional Centre Puducherry, ISS.

The ISS-RCP was initiated and founded by Mr. V. Selvam who is the Founder-Regional Director and currently coordinating the various activities of the Centre.  He is a native of Puducherry and received his academic training in economics with an interdisciplinary approach in esteemed Central Universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, and Pondicherry University, Puducherry.

 

The Parent Institution

The ISS, New Delhi is the parent body for the ISS-RCP. A host of distinguished national leaders have been associated with the starting and functioning of the ISS. Professor D.T. Lakdawala, distinguished economist and Deputy Chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, Government of India was the founding Chairman of ISS and Dr. George Mathew was the founding Director. The subsequent terms of the Chairmanship were held by Professor Malcolm Adiseshiah, Sarvepalli Gopal, and Professor U.R. Ananthamurthy.

Organizational Structure and Activities of ISS-RCP

The ISS-RCP is administered by its Regional Governing Body and Regional Academic Council comprising of distinguished social scientists. The executive head of the Centre is the Regional Director. Faculties including honorary adjunct & visiting faculty, expert group on local governance, editorial advisory board and administrative staff form the key organization base of the RCP.

The ISS-RCP activities include research, advocacy and outreach programmes, RCP Distinguished Lecture Series, publication (RCP Working Paper, RCP Occasional Paper and RCP Newsletter) and internship opportunities.

Contact Address for ISS-RCP: The Regional Centre Puducherry is currently functioning from the following rented premises:

The building that houses the Regional Centre Puducherry

Institute of Social Sciences-Regional Centre Puducherry

Plot No.07-10, F-401,

4th Floor ‘Akshayaa Towers’

MGR Street, VP Singh Nagar

Mettupalayam, Puducherry-605009

+91-413-2278802 (fixed line)

+91-7708703802 (mobile)

Website: http://www.issin.org/

 

An Early Assessment

The ISS-RCP, notwithstanding the fact that it is based in a remote city and is not even three years old institution, has actively contributed in knowledge creation and dissemination in Puducherry. It has been involved in organizing 4 knowledge dissemination activities (i.e. seminars/conferences/workshops), 1 distinguished lecture, research is under progress on several aspects of Puducherry economy, 1 occasional paper was released and provided internship training to six students from Pondicherry University. This is not a small achievement considering the facts that this young institution does not have its own campus and yet to have faculty on regular basis.

ISS-RCP Involved Seminars/Conferences/Workshops

  • Inaugural national seminar on Social Science Research Environment in Puducherry: Challenges and the Way Forward, ISS-RCP in collaboration with ICSSR, 19-20 November 2014 at Puducherry.
  • National workshop on Caste, Hierarchy, and Politics of Exclusion in India: Revisiting Louis Dumont, ISS-RCP in collaboration with several academic institutions, 15-16 December 2014 at Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
  • National seminar on Transgender People: Stigma, Violence, and Discrimination, ISS-RCP in collaboration with Department of History, Tagore Arts College (Government of Puducherry), ICSSR Sponsored, 29-30 October 2015 at Puducherry.
  • Seminar on Puducherry Economy: Challenges and the Way Forward, 01-02 September 2016 at Puducherry.

ISS-RCP Ongoing Research Activities

  • Issues in Local Governance: A Critical Analysis of the Status of Local Governance in Puducherry.
  • Social Mobility in Puducherry.
  • Regional Disparities in Human Development in India.
  • Puducherry Economy: Challenges and Opportunities.

ISS-RCP Occasional Paper:

  • The occasional papers of the Centre are versions of lectures (both distinguished and special lectures) delivered by the chosen/invited eminent social scientists and distinguished personalities at the Regional Centre Puducherry, ISS.  The first paper in this series on “Some Thoughts on the History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences” by Dr. Sebastian is in the press and will be released shortly.

ISS-RCP Distinguished Lecture Series

  • The first lecture on the topic “Some Thoughts on the History and Philosophy of the Social Sciences”, by Dr. Sebastian Normandin, Ashoka University, Haryana, was organised on 09 January 2016 at Puducherry. Discussant: Dr. Gulam Dasthagir, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, School of Social Sciences, Pondicherry University. Chair: Dr. R.R. Dhanapall, Chairman, Indian Institute of Public Administration, Puducherry Branch.

ISS-RCP Internship Traning

  • The Centre has internship programme for the Post-Graduate Students of Social Sciences and is designed to orient the students to interdisciplinary research in social sciences. So far, six Post-Graduate students from Pondicherry University have successfully completed internship under the guidance of the Regional Director.

Edited excerpts from the TCM’s interview with the Founder-Regional Director, Mr. V. Selvam:

TCM: Why did you started the Institute in Pondicherry—a small city, where there is already a Central University located?

VS: For a long time, there was an unmet demand for an institution of excellence for social science research, advocacy, and outreach programmes in the Union Territory of Puducherry.  Hence, to meet such strongly felt need for an institution which can provide impetus to interdisciplinary social science research practice in Puducherry and accrue social science research outcomes for the development of this region, the Regional Centre Puducherry of Institute of Social Sciences was, at the initiative of Mr. V. Selvam, established and formally inaugurated in 2014 with a major national seminar on “Social Science Research Environment in Puducherry: Challenges and the Way Forward” in collaboration with the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Southern Regional Centre, Hyderabad during 19-20 November 2014 in Puducherry which in fact set the tone for our work at the Regional Centre. More than two hundred scholars, researchers, teachers, and students from Pondicherry University, Educational Institutions including the French Institute of Pondicherry in Puducherry and civil society representatives participated in the seminar. Prof. G. Krishna Reddy, Honorary Director, ICSSR-SRC, delivered the Key Note Address.  Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman, Indian Council of Social Science Research and former Chairman, University Grants Commission, New Delhi, in his message stated, ‘I am glad that the Regional Centre Puducherry, Institute of Social Sciences is holding its inaugural function and organising a seminar on Social Science Research Environment in Puducherry: Challenges and the Way Forward.  I understand that the seminar would attempt to understand and document a few important aspects viz. the focus areas of research in Puducherry within the context of national development scenario, the environment existing for carrying out quality research, the factors that promote or impede quality research, whether research is sufficiently focused on development issues of Puducherry, infrastructure available, funding pattern, the problems researchers face in Puducherry, and so on.  I wish the Regional Centre Puducherry and the Seminar a great success’.

Although Puducherry has a Central University, the social sciences research in the university is highly compartmentalized and their research focus is more of training oriented.  Further, the region specific research activities of the faculty and students of social sciences in the university are very limited. Hence, a professional research institute like Regional Centre Puducherry with interdisciplinary approach is befitting to address the research needs of the region and advocacy for the overall development of Puducherry.

TCM: What are the key challenges being faced by your new Institution when functioning in a small city?

VS: While Puducherry presents great opportunities for the Centre to evolve itself as a Centre of excellence and carry out research on region specific issues, it does create bigger challenges like non-availability of well-trained researchers/faculty and limited funding opportunities for the research programmes of the Centre.  Mobilising financial resources for the activities, office rent, and maintenance of the Regional Centre Puducherry has been a very challenging task since we are an independent research institution without any financial support neither from our head office nor from any funding agencies.

TCM: What is your take on the opinion that ICSSR should establish or support at least one research institution in a Union Territory as done in the case of Indian states?

VSWe are of the firm view and wish that Puducherry must have an ICSSR institution as in other Indian States. This is a gap which needs to be filled. We are very keen on Regional Centre Puducherry ISS becoming an ICSSR institution in the near future. We have formally informed Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat, Chairman, Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi, about our initiative and have sought ICSSR’s support.  The Chairman was very appreciative of our initiative and has in principle consented to support our activities.

TCM: Do you receive any support from local government for the institution?  

VS: At present we do not receive any financial support from the Government of Puducherry.  However, efforts are on to establish connection with the Government for financial support for our research and advocacy activities.

TCM: Could you briefly summarize the SWOT (Strength-Weakness-Opportunities-Threat) analysis of your Institution?

VS: (i) Strengths: (1) The experience, expertise, and guidance of our head office in New Delhi; (2) Distinguished academicians and eminent personalities who are members of the Regional Governing Body and Regional Academic Council respectively.  Their constant guidance and support in fact help us in shaping up the academic and advocacy agenda of the Centre and carry out them systematically; (3) The location of our Centre in Puducherry, a former French colony with its cosmopolitan character and peace loving people, is considered as a great strength as it provides a fertile ground and conducive atmosphere for our academic activities; and (4) Regional Centre Puducherry’s presence in the absence of an institution of excellence for social science research from an interdisciplinary perspective is our biggest strength with immense potential for us to evolve as a Centre of Excellence.

(ii) Weaknesses: The social science research practice has not been given its due importance in Southern India in general and Puducherry in particular. Although we are in an advantageous place, we face a serious challenge of not getting well trained researchers in social sciences.

(iii) Opportunities: The Centre has excellent opportunities to carry out policy research, intervention studies, and advocacy programmes for the overall development of Puducherry as ours is the only research institute in the region with great potential to take up interdisciplinary research on wide range of issues concerning Puducherry. We also have the opportunity to impart research training in order to fill the skill gap.

(iv) Threats: The biggest threat is the secondary importance being given to social science research in the region. This obviously creates difficulties in terms of finding resources, both financial and human, for our proposed academic activities.

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