SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY/NATIONAL
General Studies 2
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
General Studies 3
- Science and Technology? developments and their applications and effects in everyday life
- Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.
What ails Indian science?
Earlier this year, top administrators in Indian science submitted a detailed project report on ‘the state of Indian science’ to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The report, titled ‘Vigyan 2030: Science and Technology as the Pivot for Jobs, Opportunities and National Transformation’ jointly submitted by the secretaries of all the Central science departments, lays out a sweeping plan to rejuvenate science in India.
The report has noted that stature of Indian science is a shadow of what it used to be, because of decades of misguided interventions.
Improve the participation of women
The report reflects an urgency to improve the participation of women in the transformation of Indian science.
- Though there are more girls than boys in the life sciences, there are fewer in physics, maths, earth science and chemistry. Enrolment of women is 28% in engineering, and “very low” in the “classical streams” (mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical), it notes.
- Previous studies have found that when compared to the U.S., European Union, and several Asian countries, India fared reasonably well when it comes to enrolment of women in science and engineering, which stood at around 35%. But the proportion of women in the science and engineering workforce was an abysmal 12%.
?2,000-crore initiative to encourage more girls and women
The Department of Science and Technology will be leading a ?2,000-crore initiative to encourage more girls and women to take up careers in the domain of science and engineering, where they are under-represented.
A pilot programme covering 100,000 girls and women, from school-going children to those interested in research, will be launched later this year.
The current initiative, called Vigyan Jyoti, envisages 500 contractual faculty positions for five years in universities and research organisations, and special scholarships for school girls. Alongside mentoring, there would be a concerted effort to expose them to more areas of science and engineering, present role-models to inspire them, and conduct counselling sessions for parents and teachers.
The proposal is a key part of a report, Vigyan 2030.
STEAM to catapult India into the path of development and growth
None of the political parties nor even the candidates seems to have science, technology, environment, agriculture and medicine (STEAM) in their agenda for the development of the nation or the state.
When we look back six decades or 15 parliamentary elections ago, when free India was born, the founding fathers “made friends with science” as a national policy and used the tools of STEAM to catapult India into the path of development and growth.
‘It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy … the future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.’ – Jawaharlal Nehru
It was the science of agriculture that ushered in the green revolution, of medicine that rid us of smallpox (and now polio), of technology that made us an atomic and nuclear power.
The fruits of indigenous science and technology, the 1.4 million electronic voting machines (EVM) made in India, form the bedrock for the efficient management of the general election. The indelible Indian ink on voters’ fingers, flaunted in selfies everywhere, is another great Indian innovation.
Failure of organisations and departments
The existing systems of science governance in this country are robust with departments reporting to ministers who in turn report to the Union Cabinet. There is no lack of sound advisory bodies and committees within these departments.
Umbrella organisations or overarching bodies (such as Scientific Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister or Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India or NITI Aayog, now essentially a policy think tank, and tasked with coordinating States and research agencies) can pool the intellectual and technological resources of organisations and direct them towards specific missions. However, despite having a team of experienced scientists and eminents, they haven’t substantially vaulted science and technology in the country either.
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, a pre-Independence institution, is another body that directly reports to the Prime Minister and has an independently-constituted governing council. It faces its own challenges of effectively translating its know-how.
Scientific departments in India, from the Department of Atomic Energy to the Department of Science & Technology, have bureaucracies of their own. They battle the dilemma of having to take bold, expensive risks — that science by its very nature requires — and on the other hand, be accountable to the Finance Ministry.
Need for an independent science and technology authority
One among several key recommendations provided in the report is to have an independent science and technology authority that will have two parallel arms.
- One, a ‘discovery arm’ that can organise the expertise of various organisations across states and regions to solve a basic research problem.
- Two, a ‘delivery arm’ that will closely work with industry and evolve public private partnerships.
Such an authority, the report envisions, will report directly to the Prime Minister. SPARK (Sustainable Progress through Application of Research and Knowledge), as the body is tentatively named, will be overarching yet have “light touch” governance.
SPARK (Sustainable Progress through Application of Research and Knowledge) is a proposed initiative to synergise science activity in India.
Reality of Indian science
- The goals of SPARK seem to be most closely attuned with NITI Aayog, and it might well be effective only within this parent organisation, taking inputs from various quarters such as industries, the ministries themselves and NGOs to make proposals, some of which could move forward to become major initiatives.
- Structure of a overarching body:Science does not end with the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research and other elite institutions.
- The report talking about huge support system and global goodwill is less acceptable.
- India does not need global goodwill to succeed in science. It needs hard work, honest management and a critically large base of experts.
- Decisions on new initiatives like SPARK should not be taken within government departments in Delhi following a proposal from one closed administrative group to another. A broad-based consultation with stakeholders is a must.
- Even if SPARK is constituted, it needs financial independence; given the relationship between the Ministry of Finance and its Department of Expenditure on the one hand and the science departments on the other, this remains a moot point.
- Large systems that work even moderately satisfactorily should not be tinkered with too much, for we may then have to face unintended consequences.
Indian science is certainly not in a good state of health today. But what is wrong is not the structure of the system. The wrongs emanate from the many sins of omission and commission over the years by the individuals who have led the system. Hence the need is to address the root cause rather than add to the top heavy system.
For a country of size and population of India the need for continuous research and development to create innovative solutions is critical. Hence a science and technology policy that is holistic and caters to all areas is a necessity.
Connecting the dots:
- Science and technology has solutions worthwhile for the country’s long term progress. Critically discuss the shortcoming in India’s STEAM architecture.
- A new body such as SPARK will just create just another rest house for retired and senior bureaucrats. Critically analyse?
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