Shubhra: How and when did your association with JNU start? What was your first impression of the campus?
Anand Sharma:Well, it was a matter of sheer chance as in 1985, I went to visit a friend in the School of Environmental Sciences who took me to the School of Life Sciences where they were conducting a quiz competition and we joined the audience. During the quiz, the audience was given opportunity to answer the questions which participating team could not. From the audience, I could answer most and grabbed most of the chocolates as prize. Then, someone asked me which school I was in? I replied that I would be joining School of Environmental Sciences next year. I did qualify the exam and interview and joined the School of Environmental Sciences in 1986.
Shubhra: What has been the trajectory of your career since you left JNU?
Anand Sharma: My current job with India Meteorological Department is the first job I got after M.Phil. degree from JNU. As JNU is the citadel of Civil Services Examinations preparation, I too was in the league. After clearing UPSC, Group –A, Post for Meteorologist Grade II, I joined my job at Pune as meteorologist-2 trainee and underwent one year advance training in meteorology and agro-meteorology following which I was posted as head of the Agro-meteorological research unit of IMD at Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra (Campus of University of Agricultural Sciences), Bangalore and remained there till 1996. I conducted field trails to understand the crop micro climate so that better crop management can be done for increasing the yield, besides writing a few research papers in that period.
Subsequently, I was promoted and posted as the Director of Meteorological Centre, Dehradun; which came into existence with my joining in 2002. There were not enough facilities in this new state and India Meteorological Department had a small set up in Survey of India Campus. So, I had to start from the scratch, which was a blessing in disguise as it provided me an excellent opportunity to use my knowledge. In a short span Meteorological Centre, Dehradun became the most prestigious amongst the 100 odd central government offices in Dehradun and that too at a time when people were dismissive of government works in general. People have immense faith in the weather forecast issued by us. We have built the credibility among the masses which makes me consider myself a civic scientist.
According to eminent environmentalist Prof. VK Jain (VC Doon University and Ex-JNU Professor) my efforts have linked science and technology to economy and society. The use of science of meteorology for the betterment of society by communicating it to the masses in simple language has done wonders. Our weather forecast and weather-based agro-advisories have become quite popular and farmers have reported significant reduction in their losses and increase in their crop produce. Also, I went on to enthuse students and implement India’s first project of establishing meteorological observatories in 100 schools of Uttarakhand to create awareness about weather and environmental issues. Meanwhile, I have also worked to strengthen the observatory network.
The most challenging part of my career to date has been the unprecedented ‘Kedarnath Disaster’ in June 2013which took heavy toll on human lives and property in Uttarakhand. We had predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall along with issuing advisories about landslides well on time and warned the concerned management to postpone the ‘char dham yatra’ and requested not to venture into the hills and move to safer places. People who could access our weather warnings saved their life but many more were unfortunate as they had left a week ago for the Kedarnath shrine and had no means of accessing any kind of information because of complex hilly terrain. Had these predictions reached people in time the extent of disaster could have been minimized? Some of these issues were featured in three documentaries on ‘Kedarnath disaster’ produced by Discovery and National Geographic Channels. As part of the new initiative I have for the first time in India, started issuing weather warnings successfully for the forest fire and landslides besides providing weather forecast for tourism.
Shubhra: You are an environmentalist. So tell us about the role JNU has played (if at all) in developing your thought process, and eventually your choice of career.
Anand Sharma: I am lucky to have studied under the best of the faculty, who were not only excellent teachers but were also excellent researchers and orators. I did my M.Phil. research on ‘Vegetation analysis of Aravalli ranges in Delhi region’ under internationally acclaimed eminent Prof. P.S. Ramakrishnan and Prof. Brij Gopal. A few of the other Professors who really influenced and left an indelible impression on my mind are Prof. B. Padmanabhamurthy, Prof. C.K. Varshney, Prof. V. Rajamani, Prof. Dave and Prof. Malik. I remember one particular lecture by Prof. Malik on ‘Dynamic simulation modeling’ devoted to solving very complex non-linear equations which most of us were not able to understand. The students started protesting and requested Prof. Malik to avoid such complicated equations as they are too difficult to understand and beyond comprehension. At that point Prof. Malik said if you are not able to understand you need not worry but you must know the ways to find out the solution. If you are not able to solve these equations go to a mathematician s/he will help you to find out the solution. It was a good lesson for a life time.
The kind of exposure at School of Environmental Sciences and JNU has trained me to take multi-disciplinary approach to tackle environmental problems. It gave me an opportunity to carry out research on ‘Ecology of tribal ecosystem of Bastar’ in Chhattisgarh. It was an experience of a life-time living in a remote jungle along with tribal communities testing ones survival instincts. The best thing is that the knowledge which I gained at various levels and especially at JNU are being utilised during my day to day job. I had never thought of becoming a weatherman. After joining IMD, I realised that weather forecasting is a science as well as an art. In order to issue an impact based weather forecast or actionable weather forecast one has to have multi-disciplinary knowledge/exposure, which I got a lot from JNU.
Shubhra: What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your profession?
Anand Sharma: Weather forecasting is very dicey job as the science of meteorology is not a perfect science. Here two plus two can be three, as well as, five. Weather vagaries could be random and unpredictable. As a weatherman, I have to deliver the correct and useable weather forecast from incomplete and contradictory information with a time constraint as weather forecast has no shelf-life. However, a handful of regularly occurring patterns impart a bit of order in the always variable weather and the fact that human mind is better than computer in recognising patterns (weather) prove useful. Weather forecasting as a job is like playing one day Cricket match daily and you have to win it too.
I feel satisfied that my efforts have been amply recognized from the State and Central Governments in the form of many awards such as Award for Excellence in Atmospheric Sciences (2008) and Best Meteorological Centre for the year (2014) by Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India, and appreciation letters (from Chief minister, Chief secretary etc.). The timely and correct weather forecasts that I issued have not only saved many lives but have also brought smiles on many a face. But, the most rewarding aspect for me is when a common man, fruit-seller, Chai wala on the street recognises me for my weather predictions. The feedback that I get from farmers telling how my forecast saved their crops from heavy rains/strong winds which is immensely satisfying. The recognition which my profession has given me is unusual for a scientist. For instance, one cannot imagine a person asking for an autograph from a weatherman especially in schools and colleges.
Shubhra: With regard to the kind of work you do, is there any message you would like to convey to our readers, in particular the student community of JNU?
Anand Sharma: These days it has become rather fashionable to blame climate change for every extreme weather phenomenon and related disasters. I feel it is premature to link severe weather phenomenon like Kedarnath disaster or cyclones etc. to climate change. These events are part of natural climate variability and get accentuated by land use land cover changes. In future losses due to extreme weather events are going to increase as more and more people are constructing (without following proper building by laws) and living in vulnerable areas. I suggest, instead of constructing building in the flood plains and along the coastal belt we should put vegetation there. Beyond this, I must convey that to be successful one need to have purity of mind and heart and sincerity of action combined with experience and knowledge. Finally, be simple, innocent and natural and let the nature guide you.