Sunday, January 27, 2013

No scientist to lead centenary celebrations!

Manmohan Singh (Left) inaugurating the Indian Science Congress, 2013

By Vinod Varshney

Since no one who has not studied science up to the graduate level can aspire to get even the primary membership of the Indian Science Congress Association, nomination of  prime minister Manmohan Singh, a non-science person,  as its general president in its centenary year is inexplicable.

Does it mean that India has not even one scientist worth his lab-coat to head the Association in its landmark year? This looks even more odd in the context of the official publicity that Manmohan Singh is the only prime minister other than Nehru to hold this august office. 

True, Nehru was nominated as its general president in 1947 and he continued even after he became prime minister. But he was an uncanny visionary who had made seminal contributions to the growth of India’s basic science infrastructure. It was his far-sight in establishing the series of national labs that took us where we are in nuclear science, space technology, food security, healthcare and industrial advances.

In comparison Manmohan Singh’s record is dismal. Year after year he repeats from the podium of  Science Congress  that we should  spend 2 percent of GDP on S&T research, but in eight years of his rule this goal has move up to 1 percent from 0.8!  
While he splurged several lakh crores on subsidies and subventions which can at best be labelled as dole-oriented, or cash for votes, they add next to nothing to the nation’s assets. But when it comes to science he has no money. 

Science administrators assure that there is no dearth of money; only, our system is unable to utilise it. One fails to understand whose responsibility is it to see that enough money is allocated for science and properly spent. Putting any Johnny in charge of S&T ministry will not help.  

The bureaucrats quote figures to show that the government is meeting 73 percent of the overall R&D expenditure; it is for the private sector to do the rest.  But the private sector looks for short term profits rather than long-term benefits. It is unfortunate that both the government and the private sector do not see much role for S&T in India’s future.   
Look at China. Its new ruling caucus has none without a management or technology PG. It is the secret of their phenomenal rally in all fields. They are now poised to overtake the USA in many S&T fields. Two years ago China built the fastest super computer. Today it has mastered virtually all frontier technologies --it  builds stealth aircraft, submarines, missiles and spacecraft for manned flight.  

With the world galloping away fast India stands little chance of catching up unless its higher science education and research bases are overhauled and fortified. The new S&T policy unveiled at the Science Congress is a fine document but without commitment to implement, it would remain an academic paper!  

The next budget, coming on the 2014 Lok Sabha election-eve, will be populist. So, no point in anticipating any big deal for S&T. Then how will the government implement the imperatives listed in the new S&T policy?

Indian Science Congress Association perhaps daydreams that by making Manmohan Singh the general president, his mind could be re-engineered to give more money to Indian science!