needs to invest in undergraduate and postgraduate education, says
Source: The Hindu
Jayaraman says India's scientific community should play a more
active role in contributing to and assessing science policy in
first half of 2005 saw a flurry of announcements and proposals
about basic scientific research emerging from the government of
India and its scientific advisory committees.
began with the finance minister's budget statement announcing
a special grant of one billion rupees (US$22.9 million) to the
Indian Institute of Science to develop it into a world-class institution,
and the creation of a special fund of nearly US$50 million for
the development of nanotechnology.
addition, the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Prime Minister
(SAC-PM) and the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet
(SAC-C) made a number of proposals.
these, the Task Force on Basic Scientific Research appointed by
the Ministry of Human Resource Development suggested even more
ambitious measures. Accepting the task force recommendations,
the ministry announced its transformation into an empowered committee
to oversee their implementation.
of these proposals are simply recycled versions of those made
by the previous government.
five national institutes of science were proposed on the model
of the Indian Institutes of Technology. This number has now been
reduced by the SAC-PM to two (to be located at Kolkata and Pune)
but the task force now appears to seek an additional ten national
'centres' located in the universities.
changing numbers are especially baffling, considering the high
degree of continuity in terms of the scientists involved in science
policymaking level under both the previous government and the
current one. The former administration's proposal certainly did
not meet any significant public criticism from the scientific
community, making it hard to conclude that these numbers changed
as the result of some critical review.
basis for some of the other proposals is equally unclear. Increasing
the number of new PhDs five-fold over ten years, as recommended
by the task force, is a laudable goal. But will there be enough
qualified students available to enter PhD programmes without a
significant investment to upgrade undergraduate and postgraduate
science education â ” investment that is not very evident
at the moment?
importantly, will opportunities for high-quality research increase
and will there be a corresponding development of research infrastructure
to productively absorb this massive increase in numbers? These
are questions that do not seem to have answers at the moment.
same criticism applies to the task force proposal to induct 1,000
extra research scientists in universities over the next five years.
This number would appear to be not unreasonable for a nation as
large as India. But adding even a few good quality scientists,
who might be expected to be reasonably productive over the years,
usually takes a number of years.
this, it is not at all clear that a sudden increase in the number
of research scientists can be achieved without compromising on
the SAC-PM's proposed annual budget of US$230 million for funding
basic science through a proposed science foundation sets a general
figure without any concrete indication as to the scientific focus
of a major part of this expenditure.
seems that these proposals and announcements have a substantially
ad hoc character, leading one to doubt whether they indeed amount
to serious attempts to revitalise research in the basic sciences.
the manner in which these initiatives are fashioned and announced
points to a deeper malaise in the formulation of science policy
contrast to the situation in many industrialised nations, the
policymaking process in Indian science rests on a small and narrow
base that has very little input from the vast majority of working
scientists. Policymaking in India is the exclusive province of
a few eminent scientists, the secretaries of major scientific
departments, the directors of some big scientific institutions
and a few other members of the scientific bureaucracy.
is no systematic and continuing oversight by the scientific community
of policymaking in India, and no articulation of an independent
vision of science building in the country. Proposals such as those
of the two SACs or the Ministry of Human Resource Development's
task force are not the result of any detailed and critical review
by the scientific community, which would at least have given them
the status of desirable long-term goals.
unfortunate state of affairs, where national science policy is
decided largely over the heads of the scientific community, is
exacerbated by the absence of any fresh efforts by younger scientists
to assert themselves and fashion an independent role in the formulation
of science policy.
striking illustration of this is provided by the task force which
notes, completely unselfconsciously, that in preparing its report
it had direct discussions with only one eminent scientist and
only one ministry official. Input from the rest of the scientific
community was received in writing or taken from ministry reports.
There were no official discussions, let alone debates, with a
cross-section of the scientific community on the issues before
the task force.
of the consequences of this top-heavy mode of formulating policy
is that there is no systematic accounting of the successes or
failures and the strengths and weaknesses of previous efforts
to build basic science. Given the problems afflicting basic scientific
research in India today, one would think that some kind of critical
enquiry regarding the past trajectory of the scientific growth
is called for. Unfortunately, there is no sign that leaders of
the scientific community recognise any such need.
consequence is that the nature of new initiatives in basic science
is dependent entirely on the influence that a few eminent scientists
and administrators carry with the political leadership, and the
manner in which they choose to exercise it.
negotiations that this small group, together with some scientific
departments and government ministries, conducts with the financial
and administrative arm of the government is the key factor in
determining the short-term health of science in this country.
Unsurprisingly, a few leading institutions, that are well represented
in such committees, are always assured that they benefit from
general, the policy advice the scientific leadership offers to
the government has little representative character and is not
given on behalf of the entire scientific community and based on
appropriate short, medium and long-term goals formulated collectively.
this mode of planning the future of basic science â ”
driven by government committees â ” there is not even
an appropriate forum for the formulation and sustained advocacy
of any long-term goals. Integrating long-term goals with short-term
initiatives seems to occur only at the level of specific departments
such as atomic energy or space, where a major part of the vision
was fashioned in more enlightened times.
this leaves out a significant part of the spectrum of what constitutes
basic scientific research, leaving the fate of many disciplines
and sub-disciplines, as well as the general strengthening of basic
research, at the mercy of the government and bureaucracy of the
third consequence of this narrow base is that policymaking appears
to be based more on the impressionistic views of a few administrators
and senior scientists rather than being sustained by actual research
on the status of science and scientists. Thus the various proposals
for boosting scientific manpower or enhancing science funding
are not backed by any concrete projections in the growth of scientific
despite the creditable performance of individual sectors and institutions,
there are serious problems that afflict basic scientific research
in India. Overall, the picture of basic science in India is one
of declining productivity.
is acknowledged that a career in science holds less and less attraction
for the younger generation. As noted by prime minister Manmohan
Singh himself, scientific institutions are significantly bureaucratised.
judging by their performance so far, one of the key stakeholders
in Indian science â ” the Indian scientific community
â ” appears to have little to offer by way of a coherent
strategy to face up to these issues.
Jayaraman is a theoretical physicist with the Institute of Mathematical
article originally appeared in The Hindu newspaper and has been
reproduced with permission.