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‘Science shield for terror’
- Kapil Sibal advocates sophisticated technology

Shillong, Jan. 3: Science can be a double-edged sword. And none, perhaps, can understand this reality better than terror-scarred India.

Science and technology minister Kapil Sibal today made a very candid observation on how terrorists were using “sophisticated technology” for their subversive activities but added that the same technology could be used in the fight against “those who misuse it”.

The Union science and technology minister’s comments came during his speech at the inaugural function of the 96th Indian Science Congress on the picturesque campus of the North Eastern Hill University (Nehu), located on the undulating hills covered with dew-drenched pine trees.

Coming just two days after serial blasts rocked Guwahati, barely 85km away, the extensive security arrangements can be gauged from the fact that virtually every inch of the Nehu campus was taken over by security personnel for the inaugural function attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a few of his ministerial colleagues.

Gun-toting security personnel, drawn from the police and paramilitary forces, stood on the rooftops, discreetly behind the trees, on the hills and in the foothills.

One of the SPG personnel on the dais even held a snub-nosed automatic weapon, his right index finger poised in a curl around the trigger.

Addressing an august gathering of pathbreaking scientists and scholars, Sibal said: “Terrorists use sophisticated technology to their advantage and in the process spread terror. My response is simple and straightforward. Technology is a tool. It is an instrument which is value-neutral and can be used for good and bad.”

“The answer to the problem lies not in embracing a technology-denial regime but act in the belief that technology alone can provide answers to those who seek to misuse it,” he added.

The minister exhorted the scientists “to help us address the main challenges we face as a nation and as a planet too; tackle and adapt to climate change, ensure security against international terrorism, satiate the needs of a rising population for food, water and other natural resources and combat the impact of human diseases such as pandemic influenza, bird flu and animal diseases such as foot and mouth and blue tongue”.

Sibal touched on several other issues including his ministry’s efforts to help scientists and research scholars in order to bolster India’s strength in the field of science and technology.

In his speech, Sibal also highlighted the steps taken by the government to upgrade science and technology and efforts to encourage the scientists.

More funds: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government has bolstered funding and infrastructure for scientific research and called on the nation’s science community to provide inspiration and leadership to young talent, adds our special correspondent from New Delhi.

“The government can at best ease the supply side constraints on teaching and research,” Singh said. “While our government is doing its bit to ensure quantitative development, the leadership for qualitative development must come from you,” he added.“The demand side stimulus must come from institutions of excellence and industry.”

He said the government has widened India’s education base by creating 30 new central universities, five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, eight new Indian Institutes of Technology, among others.

But, he said, India’s universities must do more to foster a research environment. “It is teachers and researchers who inspire new generations...we need a new generation of role models and leaders.”

Singh also said India’s private industry should invest more into research and increase the demand for science and technology graduates, using the public-funded space and nuclear programmes as examples.

“Look at the role played by public investment in nuclear energy, space and defence related industry in creating a demand for science and technology graduates,” he said. “We need a new wave of such investment from the private sector so that our young people will be encouraged increasingly to seek a career in science.”

The five-day science congress will have research presentations, public lectures and panel discussions by experts on a range of topics — from space missions to climate change and new sources of energy to methods to improve science education.

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