By Dr Nandkumar M Kamat
Goa is entering the golden jubilee year of liberation. From stone tools 50-thousand years ago to the broadband network today, the state of Goa has come a long way.
The state has contributed many reputed scientists, engineers and technologists to the country and the world. Notable among these are Abe De Faria, Agostinho Vincente Lourence, Paulo De Miranda, Froilano de Melo, Skoda Afonso, Damodar Kosambi, Datta V Naik, A X Moraes and living legends like Raghunath Mashelkar and Anil Kakodkar. There is a long list of those who have enriched the field of medicine. Scientists trained in Goa are flourishing in more than 40 countries.
My senior in the microbiology department, Mr Ulhas Naik now heads the Delaware Biotechnology Institute where he does cutting edge research. Science is now taught in more than a thousand educational institutions. Goan students are doing well at science, astronomy and mathematics Olympiads. More than 500 students from Goa have obtained their doctoral degrees in various science subjects since 1966 from either the post graduate centre of the Bombay University or the Goa University.
Since 1964, this tiny state has produced more than 30 thousand science and engineering graduates. When it was a union territory, the central government had sincerely boosted efforts to promote science, technological facilities and research centres in Goa. In 1972, the central government gifted Goa the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) at Dona Paula, then came The Institute of Petroleum Safety, Health and Environment Management, (IPSHEM) in Betul under ONGC, followed by Krishi Vikas Kendra of ICAR at Old Goa. It was on Dr S Z Quasim’s recommendations that the central government chose Goa to locate the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research under the Department of Ocean Development.
Last year Goa got the National Institute of technology (NIT) thanks to efforts made by MP Mr Shantaram Naik and the Chief Minister Mr Kamat. Within a year of establishing a separate science and technology department at the centre, a dynamic chief secretary of Goa, Dr Mathur took the initiative to establish Goa’s Science and Technology Department in 1983. Since 1986, it has been led successfully by chief scientist, Dr Narayan Varde.
The first dedicated report on the application of science and technology for the development of Goa was commissioned by the then chief minister Mr Pratapsing Rane in the late 80s by engaging the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. Known as the Panandikar and Malaganvkar Report, it was a sincere effort to lay down a roadmap for Goa’s scientific and technological progress. A massive effort to boost information technology was suggested but now Goa has lost the momentum on the IT front as the issue has got politicised.
After ten states in India prepared their biotechnology policies, the government of Goa had to be woken up. The Goa Biotech Policy was launched in 2006. The original objective of starting a post graduate course in Marine Biotechnology at the Goa University in 1986 was lost as it became a national course without any benefit to local society, economy or industries. Hundreds of science graduates from Goa had to go to other states to get post graduate qualification in biotechnology. So, once again, the government of Goa had to spend more than ` 40 crore to sanction a huge new building at the Goa University with the hope that there would be tangible returns to the state economy and industry by launching courses to generate local capacity in biotechnology.
A novel initiative under the State Biotechnology Policy was the tripartite agreement between the government, GSIA and Goa University to establish a bio incubator at the Goa University. But still enough has not been done in the past 30 years to boost the local research talent in science, technology, engineering and medicine. The fate of hundreds of future research aspirants in the field of science, leading to doctoral degree has been sealed on account of a strange policy of “no state funding - no research”. This is where the government of Goa needs to enter the picture and award liberal fellowships to deserving students to undertake scientific research at graduate, post graduate and doctorate level. Not enough has been done in this regard as the government seems to be satisfied.
Over the year’s, hundreds of students at the graduate, post graduate and doctoral level have brought laurels by winning national or international level awards at science events. But the government has refused to treat them and felicitate them on par with sports or cultural personalities. This has happened in Goa because an insignificant amount of the budget is spent on short term or long term funding of need-based scientific research projects. The state government needs to identify top-100 high schools in Goa by number of students and build modern well equipped science laboratories with wi-fi network and videoconferencing facilities. Similarly top-25 higher secondary schools (science stream) need to be covered under modern laboratory programme. Needless to say, colleges that have science faculties need maximum support for modern laboratories and networking. Fortunately the corporate sector has been very liberal in helping the higher education sector.
Goa enjoys tremendous bio wealth, which is being systematically pirated and plundered by unauthorised gene hunters. But the state government has not done any capacity building for tapping this wealth. Goa needs a separate centre for Western Ghat research. Bioinformatics and chemoinformatics are skill-based money spinning areas where students from Goa can shine. There needs to be a state level centre for bioinformatics and chemoinformatics. The Goa pharma industry would welcome this move. In fact, the best expert on this subject in India, Dr Karthikeyan from the National Chemical laboratory, Pune has agreed to guide the state government in this direction if requested. Students with a background in biology trained from this institute would be able to work and earn from their homes. Contract research has great future in Goa. ISRO is willing to set up one of its facility in Goa.
Consistent with requirements of a film festival there is tremendous scope for institutes to impart basic and advanced training in digital media, digital cinema, animations, computer generated graphics and special effects skills, which Goan students pick up very easily. The state government needs to look seriously at the stagnation in the areas of science and technology and prepare a new roadmap and package of incentives to enthuse Goa’s younger generation. Other states have moved far ahead and Goa is likely to miss the bus once again.