Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech on the inaugural day of the 101st Indian Science Congress (ISC) in Jammu on Monday made the right noises.
The PM stressed on the need to develop affordable innovations in healthcare, sustainable agriculture, clean energy and asked for more corporate investment in the research and development (R&D covers basic research, applied research, and experimental development) sector.
This is not the first time the PM has spoken about such things but, unfortunately, nothing much has moved on the ground.
The reason for this is not hard to seek: the State’s lack of commitment towards basic science research. In 2003, the government had set a target of increasing investment in R&D from under 1% to at least 2% of the GDP by 2007.
In his speech on Monday, seven years after that deadline, Mr Singh repeated the same target all over again. Compare this with China: the country spends 1.7% of its GDP on R&D.
The PM highlighted the successful launch of the Mars mission and the indigenous cryogenic engine-powered GSLV and announced a National Mission on High Performance Computing at the cost of Rs. 4,500 crore and a Rs. 1,450 crore neutrino-based observatory in Tamil Nadu. While these achievements are commendable, one expected the PM to announce concrete plans regarding promotion of basic sciences in schools and colleges, which could go a long way towards developing scientific temper among citizens.
If a majority of Indians think of science only when the Indian Space Research Organisation launches a satellite or a rocket, it is because the government has failed to attract young minds to take up basic sciences as a career.
Mr Singh rightly said: “We need to ensure that the best among our young people take up science as a career”. He had made a similar observation in his first speech at the ISC as PM in 2005 when he said “…our best minds are not turning to science, and those who do, do not remain in science”. Almost a decade later, we have hardly moved an inch.