The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rs 500 cr for city science institute

New Delhi, March 4: A science institute will come up in Calcutta, the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister decided today.

The institute is expected to cost Rs 500 crore, Professor C.N.R. Rao, the council's chairman, said.

The council met today to discuss proposals to pump big money into basic sciences and create an autonomous agency to insulate science from the bureaucracy.

The proposals, approved by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the meeting, include an institute in Pune ' like the one planned in Calcutta ' and a National Science and Engineering Foundation with an annual budget of Rs 1,000 crore, council members said.

Rao said the Indian Institutes of Technology would be asked to increase their admissions to pure science streams. 'We want our IITs to become like the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology),' Rao said. 'The number of science students in the IITs today is very small.'

The funds would need to be approved by the Planning Commission and things may begin to move 'only in a few months', a council member said.

A fellow of the Indian National Science Academy, however, cautioned that the key to improving standards of science in the country would be concentration of resources on education at the secondary and college level.

'I have apprehensions about how much new research institutions will achieve,' said Pratap Srivastava, former vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Council members said the National Science and Engineering Foundation would focus on getting funds into universities that have long been denied resources for research in basic sciences.

The foundation is expected to serve as a mechanism 'to insulate science from the bureaucracy and to channel money more efficiently into the academic sector', a council member said.

'We'll draw up new guidelines for the way the money is disbursed,' Rao said, citing China as an example where such an autonomous foundation had led to a dramatic resurgence of science.

The number of scientific research papers from China shot up from 17,000 in 1999 to over 35,000 in 2003. In contrast, the number of scientific papers from India was 12,500 in 1999 and 15,600 in 2003.

The council chief said proposals to revive 'dormant' technology missions for safe drinking water and scientific literacy have also been given the green signal.

A new health technology mission that will track emerging diseases is on the council's wish-list, but the level of funding is yet to be worked out.

Rao said the council is also trying to find ways to make a career in science more attractive to young people and increase the number of women in the field. 'We haven't been effective at this so far,' he admitted.

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