Elections 2014: Politicians told to do more for science and technology

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Notwithstanding their inclusion in the 2014 Lok Sabha election manifestos, the promises on promoting science and technology must be translated into "solid action" by the political class or else India's goal to become a developed nation would remain a pipe dream, say experts.

"Science and technology has not even got the fraction of attention it deserves. What I would like to see is some solid action on the ground.

"Unless politicians recognise the importance and make a substantial investment in the sector, India's dream to become a developed nation will just remain in the pipelines," Sibaji Raha, director, Bose Institute, Kolkata, told IANS.

The scientific community demands that the next government at the centre set aside a bigger chunk of the budget for research and development, create infrastructure for "continuous innovations" and boost science movements among the electorate and dovetail this with the private sector's aid.

According to science and technology policy studies expert Pranav Desai: "The next government should first enhance allocation for science and technology/R and D, education and health sectors substantially."

"It should focus more on programmes that provide greater access to technology and reduction in income and gender disparities," he said.

The BJP manifesto, for example, harps on the encouragement and incentivisation of private sector investments - both domestic and foreign - in science and technology and in high-end research "aimed towards innovation".

The Congress says it will increase the annual expenditure on science and technology to at least two percent of GDP.

Though Desai believes politicians do appreciate the economic value of science and environment, they need to take it to the next level.

"What they need to realise are the linkages between economic value and science and environment," said Desai, professor and chairperson, Centre for Studies in Science Policy (CSSP) at the School of Social Sciences of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Amit Kumar, director, Energy Environment Technology Development, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), points out that "with right conditions created by the government, the private sector can also be encouraged to contribute towards this".

"And it is high time that the government moved away from its fixation whereby disproportionately large share of its resources goes to government institutions. In fact fruition of research carried out in non-government institutions of excellence is far greater," he told IANS.

While the incumbent regime has framed policies like the Science, Technology and Innovation policy (2013), there is a requirement for policies that can reverse the brain drain.

"The policies should signal that India is all business in this field, enticing the best talent globally, including those Indians that have settled abroad for want of conducive environment domestically," Kumar said.

Another aspect to this is enhancing public participation and, with fostering the scientific temper enshrined in the Constitution, the "gaps and glaring disparities in specific regions or sector" need to be bridged, said Desai in an email interaction to IANS.

"The present government has taken many measures towards fostering scientific temper. But a lot is desired to be initiated in terms of innovative programmes designed for specific groups and sectors given the magnitude of the problem," he said.

One of them is boosting strong people's science movements in the northern part of the country, on the lines of the initiatives that heralded public awareness about the role of science in society in south India.

Pressing problems of primary healthcare, connected to environment, water and nutrition and "equally serious" issues of women and child health could be attributed to lack of awareness and understanding of science, says Desai.

"Ironically, without adequate focus on science and technology, many of these promises might never be fulfilled in a timely and cost-efficient manner," said Kumar.

A well-known advocate of boosting rational thinking among masses, scientist Pushpa M. Bhargava asserts it will be a "huge challenge" for India's next parliament as there is a strong link between development of scientific thinking and secularism.

"Unfortunately, people still flock to godmen...even the scientific fraternity is not without its fault," Bhargava, founder and former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, told IANS over the phone.

"Every time there is a rocket launch, the scientists visit Tirupati temples...don't they have faith in their own scientists' efforts? Scientific temper among masses is indispensable for secularism," said Bhargava.

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