The Union science and technology ministry has dissociated itself from the annual session of the Indian Science Congress Association in January 2024, accusing the ISCA of changing the venue from Lucknow to Jalandhar “unilaterally” without government approval.
The Department of Science and Technology (DST), in a notice sent on Monday to secretaries of other scientific departments, said it had asked the ISCA not to incur any expenditure from the government exchequer without the Centre’s approval. The DST is an arm of the science ministry.
“It has also been decided that DST support from all its resources for the forthcoming ISC event in 2024 will be discontinued,” the DST said in the note.
The ISCA, a scientific society established in 1914, organises its annual session of scientific meetings in different host academic institutions every year from January 3 to 8, always inaugurated by the Prime Minister since Independence.
The DST’s decision to withdraw support for the Jalandhar session, citing among other reasons the changed venue, is being viewed by ISCA office-bearers and others in the science community as fresh evidence of the erosion of autonomy of scientific institutions.
“Never in its 109-year history has ISCA had to take government permission to select a venue for its annual session,” professor Ranjit Kumar Verma, ISCA general secretary, told The Telegraph.
Verma added: “It has always been the prerogative of the (ISCA) general president who usually relies on a committee’s recommendations.”
The decision to pick Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Jalandhar was the result of such an exercise, another ISCA council member said. The ISCA had initially picked the University of Lucknow for the 2024 session, but had to select an alternative when the varsity withdrew.
“There were three or four universities in a waiting list for alternatives, and LPU was selected because it had superior infrastructure,” Verma said. Under standard practice, the DST is expected to provide funds to the host university — LPU for the January 2024 session — to help support the scientific sessions.
The DST notice said the ISCA had changed the venue “without any consent or any other approval of the government”. The DST, explaining its decision to dissociate itself from the session, also said the ISCA’s annual event “has already lost its relevance in the scientific community and lacks a professional approach on the conduct of the event on many fronts”.
ISCA executive council members challenge those claims. “Thousands of scientists, teachers, students including school students attend the meeting every year — it is misleading to claim that it has lost scientific relevance,” another council member said.
The DST and other scientific departments had between 2015 and 2021 supported a parallel conference called the India International Science Festival in collaboration with Vijnana Bharati, a non-government body of scientists that once listed among its objectives the promotion of “swadeshi sciences”.