| A girl carries wood salvaged from her house in Nagapattinam on Monday. (Reuters)
Ahmedabad, Jan. 3: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today asked the question that has been voiced by many since the tsunami devastation ' could the calamity have been avoided'
Opening the Indian Science Congress, Singh said: 'Confronted by the colossal human tragedies wreaked on thousands of people in our part of the world by the tsunami waves triggered by an earthquake in Andaman Sea, the question has been asked if we could have made better use of modern science and technology to alleviate, if not prevent, human suffering.'
As the number of people feared dead in India was put at over 15,000, the Prime Minister said: 'Our heart goes out to those who have suffered'. But our scientists cannot remain silent witnesses to such natural disasters.'
Iterating that pre-disaster preparedness is as important as the ability to manage the post'disaster situation, Singh hoped scientists would rise to the challenge.
The government is ready to fund the research and invest in the technology required to enhance predictive capability for calamities like floods, cyclones, droughts and landslides, he added.
Minister of state for science and technology Kapil Sibal backed this up with the announcement that the government has decided to instal the DART (deep ocean assessing reporting technology) system to detect tsunamis in the disaster-prone Bay of Bengal. About a dozen devices will be installed at the bottom of the ocean to record change in height and extra flow of water. Anything unusual will be immediately recorded at the stations. The system is likely to cost Rs 125 crore and will be in place within two years, Sibal added.
Speaking at the 92nd science congress that is being attended by delegates of 20 countries, Sibal pointed out that the tsumami had caught India unawares. In the long term, 'science has to come to our rescue for understanding the designs of nature, foretelling them and devising methods for reducing the damage'.
He was echoing the Prime Minister who said in his inaugural speech: 'Science and technology must play a greater role in our strategy to address problems of mitigation and management of the impact of natural disasters.'
Singh announced the formation of a science advisory council, to be headed by C.N.R. Rao, and said the government is also planning to launch a national rural healthcare mission. He invited 'practical and relevant ideas' that would help address the needs of the people in an 'effective, efficient and humane manner'.
Calling for an end to the 'tyranny of bureaucracy' in research institutions, the Prime Minister promised: 'Our government will ensure that the most supportive policy environment is in place'.