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  • India has one more science ‘vision’

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[NEW DELHI] India’s top scientists are calling for a major increase in the proportion of wealth spent on science and recommend evidence-based science solutions for pressing problems around food, energy and water security.
 
The latest science ‘vision’ document, prepared by Indian prime minister’s science advisory council, and released this month (18 September) by prime minister Manmohan Singh, calls on the Indian government to hike expenditure on research and development, which has stagnated at 0.9 per cent of the national wealth for almost two decades, to 2.5 per cent by 2020.
 
The document emphasises the role of science in the next stage of national development and various socio-economic sectors; and also attempts to link basic science research programmes to development challenges related to food, energy and water security.
 
In tackling these problems, “further progress will depend on the best use the country can make of evidence-based science but its effectiveness will also depend on establishing new mechanisms of consultation, mutual education and dialogue among different disciplines as amongst various stake holders,” it says.
 
The document says the performance of most of the 25 science and technology advisory committees set up in socio-economic sectors “does not present an edifying picture. ’’Half of them have not met over the past few years, have little coordination among them and no new, significant programme, it says.
 
In August 2010 the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) had released its own ‘vision’ paper as part of its platinum jubilee. Reacting to the new document INSA president M. Vijayan described it as a “good representation of the scientific aspirations of India.”
 
Vijayan told SciDev.Net that the document addresses the four key problems in Indian science: bureaucracy, hierarchy, lack of autonomy and insufficient participation of scientists at different levels.
 
Despite almost two decades of economic liberalisation, the Indian scientific establishment “has remained untouched by the reforms,” and is mired in bureaucratic control and erosion of scientific autonomy, he said. 
 
But its critics include Pushpa Bhargava, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and former chair of India's knowledge commission, who criticised the document as "trite and trivial".
 
Bhargava said it skims over India's problems. For example, "the section on energy security only mentions research on solar energy and omits wind, biomass and micro-hydel energies," he said.
 

Also, Bhargava said, the document only mentions administrative bureaucracy, and does not address the problem of "internal scientific bureaucracy" where institute directors do not allow room for dissent.

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