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[KOLKATA] A science exhibit that has been rolling around India for nearly nine months may soon be allowed to find its way to both Bangladesh and Pakistan, where some hope it will act as a 'peace train'.

Speaking in parliament, Kapil Sibal, India's Minister of Science and Technology, has said that, pending security clearance from the Foreign Ministry, he is keen to send the exhibit to India's neighbors.

'Vigyan Rail' is an interactive science exhibit set up on a train that has made use of India's extensive Indian rail network, traveling to 56 towns and cities since its launch in December 2003.

In May 2004, M.V. Kamath, president of the Indian science communication society Vigyan Prasar, which runs Vigyan Rail, told the journal Frontline that he planned to approach the government with the idea of sharing Vigyan Rail with other countries.

"In this climate of friendship, I think it would be a wonderful idea for the Vigyan Rail to play the role of a peace train to Pakistan," said Kamath. "Not only will it amount to a gesture of friendship but it will be educative for the people of those countries as well."

Meanwhile, although the train was to have ended its journey last month, after crisscrossing the country for eight months, there are already plans to it to continue its journey within India.

During the second phase, the train would have additional exhibits, according to the Department of Science and Technology.

Vigyan Rail is intended to promote public awareness, especially among the young, about science as an everyday tool, and to demonstrate the country's achievements in science and technology.

The project makes use of India's vast network of Indian railways to help foster a scientific awareness among people living far from the country's urban centres. This is considered by the government to be of special importance in a country that still has vast pockets of ignorance, superstitions and scientific-illiteracy.

The project coincides with the Department of Science and Technology's decision to make 2004 the Year of Scientific Awareness.

As part of the exhibition, 18 government departments have provided information about the environment, communication, information technology, scientific and industrial research, water resources, ocean development, agriculture, health, non-conventional energy sources, meteorology, and more. In a separate section, visitors can learn about India's scientific heritage.

Visitors are also given tips on preserving the environment, and conserving water and power, for example by collecting roof-water during heavy rains.

Twelve train compartments have been converted to house models, charts, exhibits, hands-on models, computer quizzes, video and multi-media.

The train stays at a station for between three and seven days, and entry is free. It has been particularly popular with students and small children, who have been attracted by exhibits on 'how things work', as well as high-technology gadgets such as touch-screen monitors.