The All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN) expresses deep grief at the passing of Professor
Yash Pal, a well known scientist and a guide to many, who are committed to the promotion of science
and scientific temper amongst our citizens. He was one of the prominent scientists of his time, who
reminded the Indian State of its societal duties in these areas and contributed his energies towards
creating platforms from where message of scientific temper could be addressed. Professor Yash Pal
passed away in NOIDA on 24th July 2017, i.e. on the same day when his one time colleague, Professor
U.R.Rao passed away in Bengaluru. Both these stalwarts shared in their heart the love for their fellow
citizens, and respect for the pluralistic, composite cultural ethos of India, which is now being
threatened with the rise of divisive, hedonistic, majoritarian attacks.
The AIPSN sends its heart felt condolences to Professor Yash Pal’s family.
Professor Yash Pal was born on 26thth November, 1926, in Jhang, undivided Punjab, which now falls
in Pakistan. Interestingly, it was the same Jhang district that the Nobel Laureate Professor Abdus
Salam hailed from. Yash Pal’s childhood was spent in the Baloch town of Quetta, from where they
moved after the 1935 Quetta earthquake, in which Yashpal’s house was completely devastated. Such
devastation revisited Yash Pal a second time, with the partition of the country that coincided with our
independence. Yash Pal was then studying for his M.Sc. in Lahore but could not complete the degree
since he had to leave for India as a refugee.
Jobless and without a masters degree, he would have had to give up hopes of doing research but for
the kind advice of Professor D.S. Kothari and the chance that the newly founded Tata Institute of
Fundamental Research, Bombay ( now Mumbai) offered. With his fellow colleague, Devendra Lal
and guidance from Bernard Peters (an American scientist, former student of Robert J Oppenheimer,
who came to India on self imposed exile, to escape the McCarthy era) the TIFR group did some
pioneering work in cosmic ray research in the 1950’s. Later, Yash Pal went to the MIT in the US for
his Ph.D. under the guidance of the famous scientist, Bruno Rossi. Professor Yash Pal returned to the
TIFR in 1958 and served there till 1973 until he shifted to Ahmedabad to set up the Satellite
Application Centre (SAC, now called the Space Application Centre).
Being inspired by the tradition of our freedom movement, Yash Pal responded with great energy to
the demands of the SAC. It was Dr. Vikram Sarabhai’s dream that the benefit of India’s Space
programme must reach the homes of every Indian. This was taken forward with an expanded vision
when Professor Satish Dhawan took over the reins of the space commission, after Sarabhai’s
premature death. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) of the SAC was one of the
first trials towards that, in bringing educational programmes to Indian villages. And this was the
beginning of the “turning point” which finally led to the immensely popular science programme
“Turning Point”, twenty years later, in which Professor Yash Pal himself would answer TV viewers.
Professor Yash Pal was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1976 and Padma Vibhushan in 2013. He was the
Chairman of the University Grants Commission from 1986-1991. It was during his tenure that the
concept of Inter University Centres took shape. Even in retirement, he served in many committees look into the problems of education, the last one being the Yash Pal Committee on Higher Education,
set up in 2009.
Professor Yash Pal was awarded the Kalinga Prize for his contributions in science communication.
We, in the AIPSN fondly recall that he was the National President of the Bharat Jan Gyan Vigyan
Jatha (BGJVJ) 1990, in which the AIPSN played an important role. It may be recalled that the
Literacy campaign, emerged through the BGJVJ in which the BGVS and AIPSN played prominent
President, AIPSN. General .