Science Congress Starts in Bhubaneswar: Despite Weaving Utopia, Prime Minister Stresses on Traditional Wisdom of Orissa’s Mayurbhanj

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

(Pictorial input from Piyush Mohanty)

The 99th Annual Session of the Indian Science Congress commenced here at Bhubaneswar on January 3, 2012 on the theme: “The role of Science and Technology for Inclusive Innovation with special reference to the role of women”.

Matching the theme, in his inaugural address, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh informed that his government is providing “large number of scholarship” in science sector, “most notably, in the Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research or INSPIRE scheme which gives awards to one million science students” out of which, “49.6 per cent are women”.

He maintained that, “more than 60per cent of INSPIRE fellows pursuing doctoral research happen to be women”.

Yet, the hard reality that glared through his speech was that, “60 per cent of nearly 2000 Indian women Ph.Ds in science who were surveyed (in a study published last year) were unemployed. The main reason cited was lack of job opportunities”.

He, however, claimed that, “Public investment in Research and Development has been growing at 20-25per cent per year during the 11th Plan period”.

“Over the last few years, the number of scientific publications by Indian scientists working in India has increased at more than 12 per cent per annum against the global average of 4per cent. India has moved from the 15th rank in 2003 to the 9th rank in 2010 with respect to the number of publications in peer-valued journals”, he claimed.

But, there was no escaping from the reality that “over the past few decades, India’s relative position in the world of science had been declining and we have been overtaken by countries like China”.

Brooding loudly over the question as to “what is the role of science in a country like India?”, he said, though “there is no simple answer”, yet, “for a country grappling with the challenges of poverty and development, the over-riding objective of a comprehensive and well-considered policy for science, technology and innovation should be to support the national objective of faster, sustainable and inclusive development”.

Pointing out that “there is much that the scientific community can do to achieve these objectives”, he said, “research should be directed to providing ‘frugal’ solutions to our chronic problems of providing food, energy and water security to our people. Science should help us understand how to give practical meaning to the concept of sustainable development and green growth. Science should help us shift our mindsets from the allocation of resources to their more efficient use.”

Science, in India, has stayed far away from age old wisdom, as a result of which, its relevance to people at the grassroots has remained obscure. He therefore stressed on attention to traditional knowledge. “Explore and rejuvenate traditional knowledge systems found all over our country in areas such as agriculture, architecture, handicrafts and textiles” he said.

Look at Mayurbhanj and Koraput of Orissa

“One need go no further than the tribal communities of the Kharia, Santhals, Gonds and Kolhas who live in the deep forest areas of Mayurbhanj and have a reservoir of knowledge on medicinal usage of locally available plants”, he said while congratulating “the tribal community of Koraput for the global recognition they have received for their contribution to conserving bio-diversity and developing climate-change resilient farming systems” and exhorted the scientists to look at these phenomenon in right earnest so that “technology and process engineering should help us reach the benefits of development to those who need it most”.

Like any politician leading a plutocracy, he churned out wishes such as “we must ensure creation of a new innovation ecosystem”, “we must achieve greater alignment of the Science and Technology sector with the inclusive development needs of our nation” etc etc. But it looked like weaving utopia, because, on his own admission, “while it is true that science and engineering continue to attract some of our best students, many of them later opt for other careers because of relatively poorer prospects in science”.

According to his further admission, “science is often pre-occupied with problems of the rich, ignoring the enormous and in many ways more challenging problems of the poor and the under-privileged”.

“It is in some ways ironic”, he confessed, that, foreign firms such as “General Electric and Motorola have created world-class technology hubs in India, while our own industry has not done so”.

And, against this backdrop, the Science Congress commenced its 99th session.

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