Articles
HERBAL PETROL


The Statesman, October 1996

HERBAL PETROL: Ramar & Science Establishment
by S. GURUMURTHY

He was “Rama” (incidentally his name is also Ramar), barely a month ago. Today he is “Ravana”, a “Natwarlal”, a cheat and what not.

An Indian version of Newton – virtually this is how a month back the nation came to know of Mr. Ramar Pillai, the controversial inventor of herbal petrol; and today the science establishment of India feels cheated, angry, indignant and even abusive. In fact, Professor V. S. Ramamurthy, the Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), accused Mr. Ramar of dishonesty and cheating.

The complaint of Indian Science is that Ramar Pillai has cheated the best among them in an open public demonstration. That Ramar was a half-literate makes the anger all too obvious and unbearable. The Indian science establishment believed Ramar because it saw Ramar producing petrol – it obviously felt that seeing was believing. The best in the Indian science establishment in Delhi witnessed Ramar’s demonstration on September 3, 1996 and believed that he was turning water into herbal petrol. The only logic of the scientific approval for Ramar’s September demonstration was that the scientists had seen it happening.

PROMISE

Why did the DST change its stance between September 3 and October 1? What happened between September 3, when Ramar got his process certified as showing the great “promise” from the DST and October 1, when the same DST publicly accused that Ramar dishonestly cheated them virtually by a sleight of hand? The apparent reason is the failure of the demonstration conducted at the IIT, Madras on September 26.

But the real reason is something different. Immediately after the DST’s public acclamation of the Ramar experiment and how promising it was, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a Madras-based research organization, wrote to the DST about their experience with Ramar. How critically the CPS tested Ramar’s claim and how casually the DST and even the IIT, Delhi dealt with Ramar in contrast. Let us now see the contrast.

Some time in January 1995, Ramar approached me to help him get recognition for his work on herbal petrol. I in turn introduced him to the CPS and to Dr. J. K. Bajaj and Dr. M. D. Srinivas, two brilliant minds who, unlike the main-line scientists in the establishment, have great conviction in the traditional scientific talent in the country.

A demonstration of his process was held by Ramar at the CPS – before a select group of people. I too was present then. This was in January 1995. In this demonstration Ramar did precisely what he did on September 3, 1996 before those eminent scientists in Delhi, namely, produce half a litre of herbal petrol, which burned the same way it did in Delhi 17 months later. So Ramar did at CPS in January 1995 what he did in IIT Delhi in September 1996. But, the scientists at CPS were not swept off their feet and never did anything like what the Indian science establishment at the DST and IIT Delhi did in September 1996. In fact, even before Ramar finally demonstrated the production of the fuel from water, the CPS scientists measured roughly the input and output from the process, and found that the output was more than the input. This was also a reason for being cautious.

Thus instead of going public, and instead of proclaiming Ramar as the Inventor in the making, and in fact advising him against making any public claim, the CPS team decided to investigate the matter scientifically and under cotrolled conditions. I too advised Ramar to subject his process to tests. He had personal problems and his associates were dissuading him from subjecting him to tests. Ultimately, Ramar was persuaded to agree to testing his process.

Dr. Bajaj and Dr. Srinivas devoted at least a whole month to Ramar. They visited Ramar’s establishment in Edayankulam, a hamlet in distant southern Tamil Nadu. They arranged for a detailed scientific experiment. The CPS assembled in addition to Dr. Bajaj and Dr. Srinivas, both of them physicists, a senior chemist, a working metallurgist and a young micro-biologist to monitor any physical, chemical, metallic or micro-biological changes taking place during the process. The team of scientists kept an accurate record of the input and output, and recorded the temperature of the experimental material and also sampled the material to test any possible micro-biological activity.

The experiment was conducted in two separate vessels for three days. In one vessel on the third day a thick layer of oil was found and none in the second. Ramar abandoned the second vessel and concentrated on the first. On the fifth day, after some heating, the oily substance was decanted and filtered. The result of the experiment showed that the weight of the output exceeded the input by 1.3 kg, which was exactly the weight of the oil. It meant that no part of the water had turned into oil and that there was no explanation – at least scientifically – how the oil could have come into being.

SAMPLES

The tests indicated that there was no significant chemical activity, or change in temperature and the samples taken for micro-biological tests were inert. So the CPS could not rule out that the experiment was not free from extraneous incursions, though the second experiment did yield 1.3 kg of herbal petrol. During the five day experiment I too was visiting the CPS every day.

The CPS then suggested that Ramar should conduct his experiment again in conditions which would rule out the possibility of any external incursion. Ramar’s associated did not agree: but Ramar was again persuaded by his friends to do it. The third experiment at the CPS was under more secure conditions, with all access to the experimental vessels being observed and guarded. On the third day, Ramar abandoned the experiment and saying that he will return after a couple of days, left for his village and never returned.

Dr. J. K. Bajaj recounted the entire event and his experience with Ramar in a letter to Professor V. S. Ramamurthy, the DST Secretary, on September 14, 1996 and concluded the letter saying that: “I have recounted the experience with the intention of bringing whatever information we have to your notice. We do hope that Sri Ramar’s experiments prove successful, and we wish him all luck.”

It is this letter that seems to have shocked the DST – and made them realize how casually and unscientifically they have handled such a serious issue. Apparently, the Madras IIT experiment on September 26, 1996 was a sequel to the CPS letter of September 14, 1996 to the DST, where the Ramar experiment apparently failed.

FALSE NOTION

The science establishment of India then came down on Ramar like a ton of bricks – shrieking him as a cheat and accusing him of dishonesty. If the DST’s view that Ramar is dishonest is right, it is obvious that the top science brains in the country were kept under a false notion by a half-literate for over three weeks and they, in turn, livened up the hopes of the nation reviving itself through Ramar’s invention and Chief Ministers and politicians were eager to be seen with Ramar.

All because of what? Not because Ramar turned water into oil – this he has been claiming for years; but because the DST publicly spoke approvingly of it without critically and scientifically verifying it. Even now from his own point of view Ramar does not seem to be wrong. He keeps demonstrating his work – in public.

On October 2 he has again publicly demonstrated his process in Hyderabad – in the presence of the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. He has used glass vessels in Hyderabad to disprove that he had tucked any ordinary petrol in secret chamber in his own vessel and got it mixed with water during the demonstration unseen by the probing eyes of Indian Science. So Ramar has again challenged the scientific establishment.

How should the science establishment respond to this? Not by abusing Ramar; but by analyzing and testing his process in the manner the scientists in the CPS did, in laboratory conditions. The DST and the IITs should not participate in public demonstrations in theatres, but confine themselves to laboratories and research centres. The DST and IITs must conduct the experiments themselves with Ramar as a spectator of his own process and not as the master of ceremonies.

The issue has to be settled in laboratories – not in streets. But unfortunately by abusing Ramar in anger, the DST has proclaimed that it is no more a neutral party; it is a contesting party. It is Mr. Ramar Edayankulam vs Professor Ramamurthy of DST now. Who – which judge – will decide who is right?