PM’s remarks at the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of the National Academy of Sciences (October 6, 2006 Mumbai)

“I have great pleasure in participating in the platinum jubilee celebrations of the National Academy of Sciences. This Academy is one of the proud inheritances we have from a visionary generation of Indians who fought for our freedom and independence. I salute the memory of your founder-President, the great nationalist and scientist, Professor Meghnad Saha, who took the initiative to create this great institution. The main objective of the Academy, as Professor Saha saw it, was to provide a national forum for the publication of research work carried out by Indian scientists and to provide opportunities for exchange of views among them.

Most of the founder fellows of the National Academy of Sciences were on the faculty of three universities – the universities of Lucknow and Allahabad and the Benaras Hindu University. This fact reminds us of the great talent that universities were able to attract at that time. It also reminds us that it was in fact universities that were at the center of advanced research in the sciences. The universities of Calcutta, Madras, Delhi and Osmania, also had very active departments of science. I draw your attention to this fact because we do see today a disconnect between research and teaching in the sciences. Research has increasingly been concentrated in specialized institutes. The university system is unable to mobilize adequate financial and intellectual resources in support of creative research and development effort. The resulting divorce between teaching and research hampers the growth of the spirit of inquisitiveness and enquiry among students coming out of our universities. We need teachers who will inspire their students by operating on the frontiers of knowledge. Then alone can we realize the full creative potential of our students. I have spoken often, in recent months, about my concerns in this regard. It is my sincere intention to once again restore this link between research and teaching in our universities, especially in the frontier areas of knowledge.

Allow me to also remind you that the generation of scientists who built great institutions of modern science in India, were also known for their humanism and social commitment. Professor Saha was one such. Professor Saha was a product of the Bengal renaissance that gave birth to many distinguished men and women of science. They were all deeply committed to modernism, rationalism and the spread of scientific temper.

In rekindling a new interest in the sciences among today’s youth, I urge you to also inspire in them a modern, rational outlook and a worldview shaped by scientific temper.

We are now living in a world in which advances in science and technology have made it possible as never before in human history that chronic poverty does not have to be the inevitable fate of the majority of humankind. Poverty removal in our lifetime is a feasible societal goal. We must harness the enormous potential of modern science and technology to deal with vital societal concerns such as food security, education and health for all and energy & environment security. Science and modern technology must become an active instrument of social and economic transformation.

There is today widespread recognition of the fact that leadership in the modern age rests on the way we harness science for the development of the economy. Even newly industrializing nations like China and South Korea have leap-frogged ahead of us by their mastery of science and technology. In recent months I have encountered growing concern among our scientists that China has over-taken us in the field of science. If this is true, then we must ask ourselves why is it so and what can we do about it?

India has to remain in the forefront of scientific research if it is to achieve its development ambitions. How can we achieve that goal if we do not perform well in the field of basic sciences? There is widespread concern about the decline in the standards of our research work in Universities and even in the IITs. A more fundamental challenge is to attract more and better students, both boys and girls, to the sciences at the school and college levels. Teaching of science and mathematics in our schools and colleges ought to be made sufficiently interesting for the pupils. I make a specific reference to girl students because they are performing very well in the sciences at the 10+2 stage. Our challenge is to encourage girl students to pursue a career in science teaching and research. Overall, the economic incentives and rewards have to be so oriented that more and more of our bright students opt for a career in science.

Our Government is evolving a strategy to rejuvenate science. We have increased financial allocations for science teaching in India. I have asked Dr. C. N. R. Rao and the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister to come forward with specific steps we need to take to foster scientific research and make science a preferred career option for our youth.

For a hundred years we had only one advanced institute of research in the sciences. In the last six months our Government has launched three such new institutions. I am confident that this quantum leap in high quality science education will herald a new era in the development of modern science in India. I hope the new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research will emerge as world-class institutions with an intellectually alive atmosphere for research. We are also committed to increase the annual expenditure on science and technology from less than 1% of our GDP to 2% of GDP in the next five years.

I would also like to draw your attention to the growing privatization of advanced research in science and technology in developed industrial economies. Multinational corporations are playing an increasingly important role in the generation of new knowledge in areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, information technology and energy. The challenge before us is to find new pathways to sustain adequate incentives for the generation of new knowledge and simultaneously to make the fruits of this knowledge available at affordable prices to the poorer countries in the world.

I would, in conclusion, suggest to you that we must find easier ways to enable researchers in India to work with their counterparts elsewhere in the world. Equally, we must try and attract the best and the brightest, especially from within the global Indian diaspora, to come and work in India, teaching and guiding research at our institutions.

You will agree with me that in the past few decades some of our brightest students have gone abroad and have done well in advanced fields of research. I am aware of the fact that many of them have been returning home, for varying periods of time, as visiting faculty at institutions in India. Many are taking up work assignments in private sector research institutions and in research-based companies. This “reverse brain drain” must be encouraged.

Our visa regime, our employment regulations and rules, especially in universities and in government institutions, and related issues must respond to this new phenomenon. Our Government will address these issues so that our knowledge economy can benefit from a `reverse brain drain’.

Finally, let me once again pay tribute to all those who have been associated with the National Academy of Sciences. I hope you will continue to inspire good science and spread scientific temper. The responsibility of making India a leader in the global knowledge economy of the 21st century rests as much on your shoulders as it does on those of our political and business leaders.

All stake holders must willingly accept the challenge of working in concert to make India a major growth pole of the evolving global economy. As I see it, our country is on the threshold of exciting new opportunities. We must mobilize all the potential for exercise of intellectual creativity, spirit of education and enterprise that exist among our people. We are going to make the future happen.”

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