S& T in the 20th Century and Today

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S& T in the 20th Century

The amount of theoretical work done during the pre-independence period was truly remarkable, in the realm of physics and medicine path-breaking works were being done, so was the process of institutionalization of science.

The establishment of the Indian Institute of Science (1909), the initiation of the Indian Science Congress (1935) and the gradual proliferation of the scientific bodies and societies were to integrate science firmly into the Indian society and polity. But as regards scientific temper, improvement of science education to the desirable extent, impact of scientific researches on Indian society and economy, for example, in terms of agriculture and health, on science to be used for national reconstruction, politicians, scientists, laureates, reformers, all participated and contributed to this outstanding debate to draw a blue-print.

The nation, however, might have faltered in implementation and this becomes even more glaring in the post-independence period. Though there was no lack of clarity or vision in intentions, Indian science seems to be at cross-roads again at the end of the century. Some of the above-mentioned questions were, examined for plausible explanations.

Long before India became independent, it was clear that as a newly emerging nation it had to make place for science, given the imperatives of education, industry, infrastructure and defence. But as to the question of how to imagine science, how to design the institution that would house it, Homi Bhabha hit upon the solutions when he started the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945. It had many surprising features, some of which still shape science in India.

Nehru’s understanding of science in relation to the country’s development was penetrating. He, unlike some of his senior contemporaries, viewed science with an unbiased and realistic attitude. His belief in the scientific method was unshakable. He thought of an advanced India with a heavy commitment to industrialisation through science and technology. But the most striking aspect of his scientific thinking was the importance he attached to the scientific outlook.

The last few decades have transformed all societies and development has become synonymous with scientific advance. And what is needed of a leader is the appropriate scientific attitude. Few men at the top of political affairs even in the most advanced countries can boast of such an outlook. And one wonders what a man like Nehru would have achieved if he had the requisite scientific techniques at his command. J.B.S. Haldane, when he left Britain and settled in India, said that he was doing so because of the then Indian Prime Minister’s scientific attitude.

After Independence, India made some very important commitments to science, under Nehru’s leadership. He agreed that countries like ours should go in for expenditure on scientific research and development equivalent to at least one per cent of the national income, if anything concrete is to be achieved, though even now, India’s scientific budget provisions are nowhere near this target. Nehru wanted to achieve it. His keen interest in the affairs of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Atomic Energy Commission is a clear indication of his scientific aspirations. He was the main inspiration behind the adoption of a national science policy and the formulation of the Science Policy Resolution.

The meetings of the Scientific Advisory Commmittee to the Cabinet were extremely lively during Nehru’s time and the decisions were implemented immediately after they were taken. After the Chinese aggression in 1962, there was too much pressure on the government to divert part of the allocation for scientific research to the defence needs. It was almost unanimously agreed that a ten per cent cut would not make any considerable difference in our scientific activity. Nehru intervened and saw to it that no such step was taken. For, the research itself could be made defence-oriented instead of depriving it of a portion of its meager resources.

 

S & T infrastructure in India today

The Department of Science & Technology (DST) was established in May 1971, with the objective of promoting new areas of Science & Technology and to play the role of a nodal department for organising, coordinating and promoting S&T activities in the country. The Department has major responsibilities for specific projects and programmes as listed below:

  1. Formulation of policies relating to Science and Technology.
  2. Matters relating to the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Cabinet (SACC).
  3. Promotion of new areas of Science and Technology with special emphasis on emerging areas.
  4. Research and Development through its research institutions or laboratories for development of indigenous technologies concerning bio-fuel production, processing, standardization and applications, in co-ordination with the concerned Ministry or Department;
  5. Research and Development activities to promote utilization of by-products to development value added chemicals.
  6. Coordination and integration of areas of Science & Technology having cross-sectoral linkages in which a number of institutions and departments have interest and capabilities.
  7. Undertaking or financially sponsoring scientific and technological surveys, research design and development, where necessary.
  8. Support and Grants-in-aid to Scientific Research Institutions, Scientific Associations and Bodies.

 

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) has a mandate to carry out the activities relating to indigenous technology promotion, development, utilization and transfer. It also oversees the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India’s largest research and development organization.

It is the nodal department for granting recognition to in-house R&D units in Industry, Scientific and Industrial Research Organizations (SIROs); and registration to public funded research institutions, corporates, universities, Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institute of Science, Regional Engineering College (RECs), other than hospitals.

The National Information System for Science & Technology (NISSAT) was launched in 1977. In tune with the changing global scenario and in pursuance of the national efforts in liberalization and globalization of the economy, NISSAT reoriented its programme activities continually in order to be useful to a wider base of clientele in diverse subjects. Besides establishing the internal linkages between the information industry, its promoters and users, NISSAT also made efforts to establish a bridge between information resource developers and users in India and other countries.

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) came into being on August 3, 1954 under the direct charge of the Prime Minister through a Presidential Order. According to the Resolution constituting the AEC, the Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Atomic Energy is ex-officio Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. DAE has been engaged in the development of nuclear power technology, applications of radiation technologies in the fields of agriculture, medicine, industry and basic research.

DAE comprises five research centers, three industrial organizations, five public sector undertakings and three service organizations. It has under its aegis two boards for promoting and funding extra-mural research in nuclear and allied fields, mathematics and a national institute (deemed university). It also supports eight institutes of international repute engaged in research in basic sciences, astronomy, astrophysics, cancer research and education. It also has in its fold an educational society that provides educational facilities for children of DAE employees.

The Department of Space (DOS) has the primary objective of promoting development and application of space science and technology to assist in all-round development of the nation.Towards this, DOS has evolved the following programmes :

  1. Launch Vehicle programme having indigenous capability for launching spacecrafts.
  2. INSAT Programme for telecommunications, broadcasting, meteorology, development of education etc.
  3. Remote Sensing Programme for application of satellite imagery for various developmental purposes.
  4. Research and Development in Space Sciences and Technology for serving the end of applying them for national development.

The Space Commission formulates the policies and oversees the implementation of the Indian space programme to promote the development and application of space science and technology for the socio-economic benefit of the country. DOS implements these programmes through, mainly, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), National Atmospheric Research Laboratory (NARL), North Eastern-Space Applications Centre (NE-SAC) and Semi-Conductor Laboratory (SCL). The Antrix Corporation, established in 1992 as a government owned company, markets the space products and services.

 

Acheivements in the Scientific Sphere

According to National Institute of Science, Technology And Development Studies (NISTADS) publication “India- S&T 2008’, culled from Scopus (the world`s largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature) data base, reports that there has been a whopping growth rate of 85.24 per cent of Indian science publications between 1997 and 2007.

But only 0.32 per cent of Indian output was published in high impact journals (IF10 to 47.4 citations per journal). The statistical figures apart, in an effort to obtain a real-time snapshot of Indian basic science, 166 scientists of repute in India were contacted using various modes of communication. Each was requested to identify in-country basic ‘notable’ research achievements since independence which could elicit international salutation. The word ‘notable’ was amply explained to them.

The World Bank Knowledge for Development (K4D -KAM2012) report puts India at 120th position among 145 countries in Knowledge Index (KI) ranking. In the above backdrop of Indian science, it would be extremely difficult for anyone who accepts the definition of innovation as propounded in STI-2013 to be hopeful about the excellence of Indian innovations sans imported science and technology. A vivisection of the recent various award winning innovations and the know-how developed would reveal that at the root of these innovations science or technologies are of foreign origin and mainly from the west. The authors of this article have themselves carried out such an exercise on 570 Indian innovations.

Two points are important in this discussion – i) we failed to pay heed to the advice of some of the doyens of Indian science of yester years of not to declutch research from university system. ii) With the progress of science, it is now extremely expensive to make arrangement to observe any natural phenomenon. After 65 years, the first point is being addressed in a wrong way (by putting the horse behind the cart) as some large government R&D organizations are opening universities of their own. Notwithstanding these steps, it is well nigh impossible to achieve any perceptible results unless Indian industries take the lead to share at least 80 per cent of total R&D expenditure of the country which moves around 15-25 per cent since independence.

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