Goodbye NIC, Hello World!

On 31st March 2023, I retired from National Informatics Centre on superannuation.

It had been wonderful journey of my life with National Informatics Centre (NIC). This enjoyable journey has been completed in 31 Years, 5 Months and 1 Day. It was on 30th October 1991 when I joined NIC as Scientific Officer/Engineer-SB. Before that, I was employed at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). On joining NIC, I was posted in its Bibliographic Informatics Division. However the division was popularly known as Indian MEDLARS Centre or simply MEDLARS. In those wonderful days, it was one of the most prestigious and popular Divisions of NIC. Popular to the extent that some people even use to ask – what else NIC does other than MEDLARS?! No wonder, if it was showcased to all VVIPs visitors.

By the way, MEDLARS was not something that NIC created. It actually stood for Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System of US National Library of Medicine (NLM) that originated in 1964. It is core to Medical and Biomedical Research and no research can practically be initiated or completed without searching it. In late 1980s, NIC and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) teamed up to provide information from MEDLARS to Doctors and Biomedical Researchers in India. Thus, the Indian Medlars Centre was born in NIC. Information was retrieved online through ISD lines using dial-up Modems from US National Library of Medicine (NLM). It was costly that way – database access was charged by NLM per seconds in dollars plus there was ISD phone charges. So, special skills were required to retrieve the most “relevant” information within the shortest time frame in a cost effective manner. Just remember, it was pre-Internet and pre-Google era. Planned and written “Search Strategies” consisting of MeSH (Medical Subject Headings from NLM Thesaurus) keywords connected with Boolean Operators were required before reaching out to the access terminals.   No wonder, few Information Specialists with biomedical background like me were recruited by NIC to be part of its MEDLARS team. To provide affordable and country wide access to the MEDLINE Database (online counterpart of MEDLARS), a MoU was signed with NLM and the database was acquired from NLM, US. It was hosted on a Unix server in the Division and connected to NICNET. Data use to come on Tapes from US and it took days to convert and upload to the server. Medical Institutions across the country used to dial-up to nearest NIC District Centres to access the server through NICNET.  MEDLARS team was hosting and updating database along with providing paid information retrieval services, connectivity and training to the end users and institutions.

As “change is the only constant in life”. Internet technologies emerged and the web became popular. The internet became available to Indian public on 15th August 1995. NLM made a web avatar of its chargeable MEDLINE and named it PubMed. After that, in June 1997, made it available free of charge on the web. So, our hosted database on NICNET was bound to have its natural death. Slowly our paid information retrieval services also appeared to be meaningless as end users with proper training could access PubMed freely without any time constraint.

The Human is supreme in animal kingdom because it has the ability to adapt to the environment and situations. I was also changing and adapting to the emerging technologies. When I joined NIC, I had academic qualification of M.Sc. in Anthropology and professional qualification of M.L.I.S (Master of Library and Information Science). I studied during service and completed M.S. (Software Systems) from BITS Pilani in 2001 with outstanding grade.  For my M.S. dissertation, I wrote a text search engine.  It was used to sow the seeds of a National Database named IndMED by indexing Indian medical research journals on the lines of PubMed adopting international standards. To supplement IndMED, we convinced medical journals to host their full text article for free access on a single platform – MedIND. Experimented with Open Access Repository of Medical Research Articles in the form of OpenMED@NIC. Individual authors could upload their articles and tag them with MeSH keywords. This experiment latter laid foundation of a new Digital Archiving Division latter using DSpace.  These initiatives were well taken by the medical community both in India and abroad.

Good time flies and once a darling, Indian Medlars Centre was no longer relevant in NIC. Come March 2009, it was formally shutdown. However, IndMED and MedIND continued with the support of ICMR funds under my leadership.

I had been actively involved with the medical community going up to the extent of becoming life member of Indian Association for Medical Informatics (IAMI). I was elected as Executive Editor (2007-10) of its official journal – Indian Journal of Medical Informatics. I had also been the Executive Member of the Indian Association of Medical Informatics.

Since January 2017 till retirement I headed Programme Management and Parliamentary Matters Section. It dealt with Parliamentary matters related to NIC like Questions, Assurances and Parliamentary Committees. Monitored progress of NIC Projects/ Services and provided reports, information and presentations to higher authorities. I won’t be wrong if I put the section as an extended DG Office.

Enjoyed my stay at NIC. Got promotions. Login was as Scientific Officer/Engineer-SB and Logout is as Scientist – G / Deputy Director General. Would miss wonderful colleagues and environment.

It’s time to say Goodbye NIC – but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d rather say hello.

Hello World!!!