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[CHANDIGARH] Young Indian scientists need more professional freedom and should be given greater encouragement to develop a questioning attitude towards established ideas, according to one of the country's top researchers.

Speaking at the opening of the 91st Indian Science Congress in Chandigarh last week, Asis Datta, director of the National Centre for Plant Genome Research in New Delhi, criticised Indian research institutes for failing to encourage its scientists to question existing theories.

Datta, who was also the president of the congress, argued that such a failure was hindering the country's scientific progress. Several universities provided an excellent knowledge base, he said, but research training that combined experimental skills with developing questioning attitudes was inadequate.

"Indians are not encouraged to question and challenge the system, and they do not do the breakaway thinking," said Datta. "For the top 10 per cent of jobs this is essential, and that is what it takes to be a leader."

He argued that China and Korea have made their mark in science because their younger scientists have been given the opportunity to follow their own ideas. "If the corporate world can have young CEOs, why should science be far away?" he said.

Datta proposed a six-point strategy for promoting greater excellence in Indian science. One suggestion was that retired leading researchers should be recruited by universities on short-term teaching appointments to transmit their enthusiasm to students. Such teachers would not be hindered by a restrictive syllabus, he said, and could encourage frank discussions.

Datta also urged the country's top six funding agencies to better coordinate funding of research programmes, "shed the partitioning and credit-sharing race among themselves", and link research with industry. 

Women should also be encouraged to take a greater role in science, he said, as women do better than men at school and university, but lose out when getting the top jobs and winning science awards.

Later at the congress, Indian President A P J Abdul Kalam called on Indian laboratories to become more competitive in developing and marketing top-quality products. He said that scientists were failing to convert technologies in the laboratory into practical realities on the ground. "Technology development is complete only when it is transferred, absorbed and utilised by industry," he said.

Kalam outlined a 12-point strategy by which science could transform India into a developed country by 2020. These include doubling grain yield; developing a vaccine for HIV and putting it to use within two years; carrying out research on stem cells; and tapping India's vast reserves of thorium for nuclear power production.

He called for the development of Indian language software for information and communication technologies in rural areas and the provision of urban facilities in rural areas. He also gave his support to an ambitious scheme to link together Indian rivers to ensure a more equitable distribution of water throughout the country.

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