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India must learn to value science: PM

Feb. 3: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today outlined his government’s decade-long initiatives to promote science and technology and make careers in research more attractive, but said India’s value system had yet to learn to give science its proper due.

Inaugurating the 101st Indian Science Congress in Jammu, Singh said his government had created new institutions of excellence for higher education in science, simplified research funding and announced scholarships to draw high-school students to the sciences.

But, Singh said he was troubled at times that science had not yet got its proper due in India’s value system.

“I would like science to be high in our value system so that our entire society provides both moral and material support for its development,” Singh told his audience, mainly senior scientists, science policy makers, and research scholars. “Instilling a scientific attitude and temper in our population is essential for developing a progressive, rational and humane society.”

Singh said his government had invested in several areas and scientific missions to ensure that India remained at the cutting edge of science. India had launched a lunar orbiter in 2008, a Mars orbiter mission in November last year, and plans to spend Rs 4,500 crore on a new generation of supercomputers.

Around 8,000 delegates are expected to attend the ongoing Science Congress, hosted by Jammu University and being held for the first time in the state.

“I think the point about raising the value of science is extremely relevant,” said a senior scientist and policy maker who was in Jammu to attend the event. “Society shouldn’t view this field as something esoteric, but learn to respect it, just as scientists need to work for society,” said the scientist.

In his address, Singh also said India should not succumb to “unscientific prejudices” against genetically modified crops, signalling his government’s resolve to continue to support a technology that has been shown to improve crop productivity but remains embroiled in controversy.

“While safety must be ensured, we should not succumb to unscientific prejudices against (GM) crops,” Singh said. “Biotechnology has great potential to improve yields.”

Singh also called on the scientific community to “increase communication and engagement with society at large in explaining socially productive applications of technology alternatives”.

Former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh had four years ago stalled the commercial release of GM brinjal in India after spending several months consulting both scientists asking for its release and anti-GM activists and other sections of scientists opposing it.

Today, the Prime Minister also iterated a long-standing plea to Indian industry to invest more in science and technology. “We must increase our annual expenditure on science and technology to at least 2 per cent of our GDP. This has to come from both government and industry.”