2 Jun 2012

PM's Address at the Inception Ceremony as the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association

Following is the text of speech of the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at the Inception Ceremony as the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association: 

"I am delighted to join you at this ceremony to formally declare open the Centenary Year of the Indian Science Congress Association. 

When Council members of the Indian Science Congress Association elected me last year as the General President for the Centenary Year of this institution, I was deeply touched by their kind gesture.

But I was also aware that, as a layman, my ability to lead the Association in the complex realm of science would be limited. Eventually, what made me decide to foray into the affairs of this privileged association was a judgement, made with humility and sincerity, that by accepting the onerous responsibility I would signal the full support and commitment of the government to Indian science as it passes through a critical decade of innovation. 

I wish to recall what Shri Ashutosh Mukherjee, the legendary Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, once said:

“……even the most enlightened Governments occasionally require to be reminded of the full extent of the paramount claims of Science upon the Public Funds.” 

It is entirely befitting that we are in the hallowed portals of the University of Calcutta to celebrate the Centenary. It was here that the Indian Science Congress Association took roots under the leadership of Shri Ashutosh Mukherjee. In many senses, modern science in India was nurtured in this city. I congratulate the city of Kolkata for nourishing an environment of learning and producing some of the country’s outstanding scientists, mathematicians and economists, including many of our Nobel laureates.

Earlier today I was privileged to lay the foundation stone of the unified campus of the Bose Institute, named after one of the greatest Indian scientists of the last century, Jagadish Chandra Bose. 

These founders of modern Indian science did not let the burdens of colonial subjugation come in the way of their pursuit of scientific excellence. They complemented their brilliant scientific abilities with imagination, drive and patriotic fervour to write a glorious chapter in the annals of Indian science. 

I propose that the technical programmes of the Indian Science Congress in Kolkata in January 2013 begin with a special lecture in honour of Shri Ashutosh Mukherjee, who personified the national science movement that took shape a hundred years ago.

The theme for this year’s Congress is “Science for Shaping the Future of India”. It is a theme that might have resonated just as well a hundred years ago when the Association came into being.

Each generation, while grappling with the pressing problems of the present, has thought about the shape and character of the India they would bequeath to succeeding generations.

We can all agree that we aspire to a future for India in which each citizen is able to meet his or her basic needs of food, clean water and shelter and is educated and skilled not only to earn a living but to benefit and enrich himself or herself from global cross currents of cultural, scientific and social advances.

The journey of our development is marked by glittering scientific achievements whether in the field of atomic energy, space, agriculture or information technology. The burden on science in the future will only increase. Our problems are overwhelming and need scientific solutions. We have to use our abundant intellectual resources to find new pathways of development that use our scarce natural resources judiciously.

But science has a greater role to play. In recent times, I have been observing a growing intolerance among our people of dissent and opinions that contradict the prevailing orthodoxy. We seem to be losing the ability to engage in a rational discourse where different points of view are expressed. Public debate is often hostage to sensationalism. I sometimes fear that a growing culture of narrow mindedness might affect the creative, innovative and imaginative instincts of our youth.

Indian civilization has a rich tradition of preserving social harmony and promoting conciliation by accommodating different viewpoints, identities and cultural differences. We should strengthen these impulses through the propagation of a scientific temper and an enlightened understanding of the meaning of freedom of expression. 

I would urge the doyens of the scientific community to speak out and make more effective contributions to an informed and reasoned debate on the issues before the nation. The voice of our scientists is important and should be heard. 

I am happy that we have chosen this Centenary Year to declare the Year of Science in India. We should all work to make a success of it.

I submit to this august audience that our government has invested as never before in Indian science. For many years the capacities in our higher scientific and technical infrastructure were stagnant. We built world class institutions that created islands of excellence that created new knowledge. But we did not use science and technology in our development processes as much as we should have. We did not build local capacities that could meaningfully address problems of development in a decentralised manner using this knowledge.

I believe that the huge expansion in educational infrastructure that this government has overseen will create the building blocks of a modern knowledge economy and, more importantly, society. Of course we have to overcome many challenges such as producing qualified teachers in adequate numbers, devising a modern curriculum and teaching methods and building proper physical infrastructure. But it is certainly true that we have taken a quantum leap in our ambitions for Indian science.

I hope that all our educational institutions and scientific establishments will mark the occasion with suitable events to raise the profile of science in India.

Over the course of the year, we hope to formulate a new Science and Technology Policy that will update the existing policy document of 2003 in the light of a rapidly changing scientific environment in the country and the world. We have to keep pace with what is happening elsewhere in the scientific world and the evolving aspirations of the Indian people. 

Turning to the calendar of events planned during the Centenary Year, I find that we have a busy year ahead. In addition to the annual session at Kolkata, there will be three regional science congresses in the North, West and South of the country. 

We will organize special sessions on the use of high technology, renewable energy and public health challenges like malnutrition. We will emphasise themes that relate science to integrated rural development in the country.

We will bring out a well-researched publication on 100 high impact-making discoveries in Indian Science during the last 100 years. We will also launch a Hall of Fame in cyberspace to portray globally the contribution of Indian science.

We are, rightly to my mind, also focusing our programmes on what we can do to attract our youth to science. There has been some discussion on the setting up of a Science Academy for the Young during the centenary year. We should follow up on this proposal after due deliberations.

At the Congress in Kolkata next year, we will invite outstanding Indian scientists under the age of 45 to deliver lectures to the youth. We will hold a special session in Kolkata for young scientists. To motivate young learners, the Association will bring out inspirational video documentaries highlighting the history of modern science. Starting from this year, a special scheme for 100 doctoral research fellowships every year will be launched under a Public Private Partnership between Ministry of Science & Technology and the Confederation of Indian Industries.

Keeping in mind our obligation to promote science internationally and in our own region, we propose to introduce a scheme to invite 25 young scientists from our neighbouring countries to undertake doctoral research in India. The Department of Science and Technology will work out appropriate arrangements in this regard. 

I am happy that efforts are being made to rejuvenate the Indian Science Congress Association through additional building infrastructure and a resource mobilization drive to create a corpus of Rs. 150 crore on the occasion of its Centenary Year.

I hope that the Centenary year events will be used by our scientific community to reflect on how we can frame a science and technology policy that reflects our aspiration for making science a spearhead of development in our country. I hope that by the time we meet for the Indian Science Congress seven months from now, we would be able to give concrete shape to ideas that can define our country’s future path. 

I conclude with a quote from Pandit Nehru, who said at the meeting of the Indian Science Congress in 1938:

“…Even more than the present, the future belongs to those who make friends with science.”

***

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