Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Current Science Editorial “Science and the Missing Manifestos”

Current Science Editorial "Science and the Missing Manifestos"

by D. Balasubramanian

Current Science, 106(8): 1047-48. 25th April 2014

As the country is voting for a new government and the parliament for the sixteenth time, most political parties have published their manifestos on key policy issues and their plans for the overall development of the nation. The Hindu, in its 8th April 2014 issue, has compared the manifestos of several parties and their plans on the economy, foreign policy, disadvantaged groups, governance, infrastructure, internal security, health, education and welfare. Sadly though, none of these manifestos has anything to say at all about science, technology, environment, agriculture and medicine (STEAM) in their agenda for the development of the nation or the states. That this neglect cuts across party or ideology lines is a cause for worry. Everyone realizes that investment and application of the tools and methods of sciences and the use of STEAM is a sure-fire way to generate opportunities for employment and the creation of a large number of jobs. In the absence of this plan, how does one party claim that it will generate ten crore jobs once it comes to power, and another party promises to develop its state along 'Singapore lines'? However, though, every party has promised reservations in recruitment and jobs for one community or another, one party has claimed that it will impose such a reservation policy even in the private non-government sector.

This is particularly saddening when we look back decades or 15 parliamentary elections ago. When India became free of colonial bondage and launched on her course of self-governance, the founding fathers 'made friends with science'. It was the national policy to use the tools of science and technology to lead India to the path of development and growth. A country that was battered with the wounds of partition, and where over 300 million people had no more than 50 million tonnes of food grains to eat, started the grand sociological experiment on the use of STEAM. Within two generations, we rid ourselves of small pox through the large scale administration of vaccines, and a disease which many believed to be due to the wrath of an angry goddess was eradicated out of not just the country but the entire world. Using a similar method, we have since rid ourselves of polio. It was again the application of STEAM that brought in the green revolution – a grand experiment that had farmers on the field join hands with agricultural scientists to increase the yield from 50 million to 150 million tonnes within 20 years. Today we produce about 250 million tonnes of food grains for a population of 1.2 billion, a fivefold increase in production for a population that has seen a fourfold increase. We have moved from a 'ship to mouth' economy into a 'silo-to-ship' economy, thanks to having made friends with science.

Yet today not a single party has a word to say about what plans it has on farming, agriculture, sustainable land use, nutrition. India is now regarded as an emerging economy, a knowledge power and is being 'promoted' from its 'developing nation' status. It is not realized that the seeds of this growth and accomplishment were sown in the 1950s through the policy that promoted and used the application of STEAM. We tend to forget how India (and India alone) has done this while 70 other nations which too gained freedom in the late 1940s and 1950s have not done so with equal success. It was again this de-liberate policy that brought in the IITs, AIIMS and similar advanced academic institutions, atomic energy, space and information technology into India. It is thus a matter of disappointment that none of the political parties has made this an instrument of national development in its manifesto.


No manifesto, but mechanism exists

Academies should engage and lobby policymakers


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