Wednesday , 23 August 2017

70 Years of Science in India

Nandkumar Kamat

Indian science’s defining moment came in 1991 when India shocked US media by building worlds’ second fastest supercomputer PARAM 8000. A US newspaper exclaimed in its headline: “Denied Supercomputer, Angry India Does It”.

Publishable, peer reviewed science fired by patriotism and aimed at universal human welfare hasn’t been much successful in post independent India because a majority of Indian scientists began to photostatically follow the western model of practicing and doing science by blindly aping their American, British or Soviet Union peers.

This is the reason why the architect of PARAM 8000 Vijay Bhatkar says: “Great nations are not built on borrowed technology.” But the stranglehold of foreign language is so powerful that it was only last week that Telecom ministry ordered mandatory availability of new mobile handsets with Indian language interface.

The days of chemist P C Ray, physicist C V Raman, plant physiologist J C Bose, mathematician Mahalonwis, S Ramanujan, D D Kosambi, nuclear physicist Homi Bhabha, physicist Meghnad Saha, paleontologist Birbal Sahni, mycologist C V Subramaniam, microbiologist Froilano De Melo would never come again. Thousands of best scientific brains have left the country in 70 years to chase their individual dreams and build their own careers without contributing much to their motherland.

On August 15, we can at least celebrate our conquest of hunger – we need to look proudly at some positive and glorious accomplishments. From being branded as a country with begging bowl, India is a grain surplus country today where pulses, onions and tomatoes are deliberately destroyed in protest on unremunerative prices. In fruits and vegetables production India has been consistently among world’s top three nations. India imported shiploads of milk powder till 1980. Today India is largest milk producer in world. All this could be possible due to immense efforts made by country’s agricultural universities and scientists.

Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh benefited from ‘lab to land’ approach. As strategy, Indian politicians and technocrats deliberately projected big science – nuclear and space research, oceanography, supercomputing, biotechnology, nanotechnology as flagship projects while ignoring investments in basic infrastructure – minimum one central instrumental laboratory in each district of India which could meet each service demand from educational and research institutions.

Indian science planning failed because government sought tax revenue from purchase of scientific and laboratory equipments, chemicals, glassware and machine spares leaving less money in the hands of scientists to plan their projects. When a Mig-23 aircraft crashes the country loses Rs125 crores including expenditure on pilot training. This is equivalent to 25 years of budget of Goa government for scientific research. So post independent India is a strange country where no tears are shed over losses of MiG jet fighters but hackles are raised over liberal funding of science education and research.

War ravaged South Korea was a non entity in 1953 in science and technology. It spends a record amount, 4.92 per cent of its GDP on scientific research. USA spends 2.742 per cent, China 2.05 per cent and Brazil 1.15 per cent of GDP on scientific research. But India has not crossed 0.9 per cent. Politicians are genuinely afraid of scientists, scientific temper and scientifically literate population because they have benefited by keeping a huge section of the country superstitious.

During past 30 years India has seen a powerful rise of pseudo sciences and pseudoscientific cults. India might have a spacecraft – MOM/Mangalyan still orbiting Mars but millions of people fear certain position of Mars in their horoscopes. Lunar and Solar eclipses still frighten most of the people in this country including millions of highly educated youth. Instead of spreading scientific literacy social media platforms are being used to promote superstitions like warnings over imminent ‘end of world’ or such nonsense.

India became a laughing stock of the world because of the Ganesha idol drinking milk hoax followed by ‘monkey man’ menace, a hoax in New Delhi. Independent India has locked its productive capital in gold. Kerala a developed state, supposed to be scientifically most literate and progressive state still has 3 million poor people who wonder about the use of gold valued at Rs90 thousand crores ($22 billion) locked in the underground vaults of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvanathpuram.

But such contradictions and absurdities define the scenario of development of science in India. Scientists are scared to confront the revengeful political class. People have no interest in understanding what scientists really do in the name of science. For them technology means magic, comfort and happiness.

The future of science in India is very pathetic. Young generation knows this. A vast number of brilliant students make their minds by end of high school education to migrate abroad instead of getting stagnated in a place where they know the system would exhaust and finish them. For past 70 years India could not follow even the clarion call of Swami Vivekananda, who made such profound statements like –“Buddha is an evolved mollusk and a mollusk is an involved Buddha”.

On the 70th Independence Day we need to follow his appeal: “The tremendous engine of competition will destroy everything. If you are to live at all, you must adjust yourself to the times. If we are to live at all, we must be a scientific nation. Intellectual power is the force.” Happy 70th Independence Day!

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