‘Indian science must serve inclusive development’

Indian prime minister Singh says Indian science must aim for inclusive development. Copyright: Wikipedia/Agência Brasil

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[NEW DELHI] India will press science and technology into serving a national policy of more inclusive, sustainable and rapid growth for its people.

Addressing the 99th Indian Science Congress, the country’s largest annual gathering of scientists, this week (3 January), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the occasion demanded a relook at the role of science in a country "grappling with the challenges of poverty and development."

Singh emphasised that "the overriding objective of a comprehensive and well-considered policy for science, technology and innovation should be to support the national objective of faster, sustainable and inclusive development."

India’s scientific output should be relevant to its stage of development, Singh said. "It is said that science is often preoccupied with problems of the rich, ignoring the enormous and in many ways more challenging problems of the poor and the underprivileged."

Singh also underscored the need to use innovations creatively for social benefit, and "give practical meaning to innovation so that it does not end up being just a buzzword."

India’s National Innovation Council plans to set up an ‘India inclusive innovation fund’ that will catalyse entrepreneurship to target solutions for people at the bottom of the pyramid.

India’s science minister Vilasrao Deshmukh announced that the country would release soon a new science policy to promote an innovation ecosystem that addressed the national priority for inclusive and sustained growth.

Deshmukh said, "We must present (a) paradigm shift in our mindsets of developing ‘policy for science’ to developing ‘science policy for people’."

Singh spelt out six key science and technology objectives of India’s 12th five-year plan (2012—17), which include achieving "greater alignment of the science and technology sector with the inclusive development needs of our nation."

Other objectives include ensuring a major hike in research and development; creation of a new innovative system; expanding basic science infrastructure; encouraging greater research collaboration between universities and national institutes; and expanding the reach of international collaboration.

"Innovation can fulfil needs which are not met by conventional means and this is critical in view of the numerous challenges the country is facing in delivering services to the people, especially at the bottom of the national pyramid," it says.

"Innovations in India hence need to cast a wider net to benefit more and more people who are currently marginalised by the system," it says.

Dinesh Abrol, senior scientist at the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS), Delhi, told SciDev.Net that India had traditionally spent a meagre one to two per cent of its science budget on programmes directed at it weaker sections, which dwindled further after the country embarked on market-oriented, economic reforms in the 90s.

"Inclusive growth will remain lip-service, unless the Indian government gives clear and correct directions to the scientific community to adopt development pathways that protect local resources, local communities and local markets," he said.