Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Science and the Prime Minister-Words vs Action

No doubt our Prime minister is a great communicator and it is his ability to connect with the citizens through inspiring words, carried him through in last last general election to become what he is to day. Though many honest citizens believe that his actions so far between May 2014 and February 2015, a relatively short period he is in power, are marked by many decisions or indecision which are opposite to what he promised the nation. There is still lot of good will for him among the common man and people may yet give him some more time before making a value judgment on his performance. As a scientist this Blogger gets an uneasy feeling that he does not mean what he is preaching some times and his recent utterances on .science and scientists at the Indian Science Congress might be well meaning but his inaction in taking action to appoint to the post of Chief of CSIR belies that hope. It seems he has forgotten that CSIR, with 37 laboratories, 39 field stations and 17000 scientists belonging to different scientific disciplines is one of the biggest scientific assets of the country requiring nurturing through encouragement, resource investment and full policy support.

It is more than a year since the last Director General of CSIR ( DG) retired and till yesterday government did not consider it a priority to fill up that post! Is this not a serious lapse as CSIR is the largest scientific body under the government and keeping it headless is like treating it like a bureaucratic set up affecting the morale of the scientific community as a whole! It was only recently that the government sacked the Chief Scientist in Defense research unceremoniously which reinforces the impression that science has been put on the back burners, at least for now.Only to day there was an announcement that a new DG has been given the task of leading CSIR. Dr M.O.Garg the new appointee will have an arduous job on hand and how he can exert influence on this PM to get the needed resources and inspiration from him to run CSIR is a million dollar question. Have a look at PM's speech at the Science Congress on January 3 this year at Mumbai which is quoted below:.

"Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on Saturday morning inaugurated the 102nd edition of the Indian Science Congress hosted by the Mumbai University. Modi called for the need to rekindle the love for science and technology and the relaxing excessive regulations and cumbersome procedures for our universities to give a boost to research. Our scientists should be able to explore the mysteries of science and not get stuck in government procedures" said Modi. He added that our research is restricted to central agencies but it must be made broad based. "We have to place the university system at the cutting edge of the research and development activities in the country," he added. Speaking about the great work of Indian scientists, Modi said, "Just as children see sportsmen as role models, scientists should also be the same. Parents should feel pride in their children becoming scientists." He also lauded the work by ISRO for putting Mangalayan in the mars" 
PM's words about University system may be very apt but his minister for HRD does not inspire much confidence among the scientific community with her limited qualification, lack of experience and inadequate vision. University Grants Commission which controls the financial strings vis-a-vis Universities require urgent overhaul if the higher education system is to contribute any thing in the scientific research area. In sharp contrast to Universities in other countries like the US or Europe our Universities are a pale shadow of their counterparts. Most of them lack world class infrastructure for training and research in different areas of science and technology. The example of ISRO, which is role model for scientific achievements, must be emulated, simulated and duplicated in various scientific fields and this agency proves that our scientists are capable of delivering results if targets are well contoured and adequate resources are kept at their disposal. 

Another worrying factor is whether there is a possibility that indigenous research will be discouraged in the face of this PM's over drive to project India as a welcome destination for foreign players to pitch their tent in the country? Naturally they are bound to try to sell all types of technologies in the country, sidelining the efforts of Indian scientists which can be disastrous by doing a lot of harm to the scientific temper among youngsters of future generation. What the present government is missing in its pursuit of foreign technologies is that even to understand and evaluate the feasibility of foreign technologies under Indian conditions, technical expertise of a high order is required and if domestic research is neglected this capacity is bound to be degraded gradually making India a dumping ground for junk technologies of irrelevance to the needs of the country. One can only hope better sense will prevail on the part of the present government and science is given its due place as a priority area of action.


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