Rao wants more opportunities for young talent
LESS THAN a week before he faced a no-confidence motion in Parliament in July, Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao found time to keep an appointment with 25 top scientists. The meeting, called at the instance of minister of state for science and technology P R Kumaramangalam, was ostensibly a follow-up to the setting up of the cabinet committee on science and technology and its advisory council.
Although there was no agenda, some crucial issues confronting scientific research were discussed. One worry was how to attract young blood to science. D Balasubramanian, director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, commenting on the discussion, said, "Engineers are moving into marketing and management or going abroad. Before long, we will reach a point when pure science may not be understood at all."
B K Bachhawat of Delhi University's department of biochemistry said, "If young scientists are to be encouraged, there have to be structural adjustments. At present, too much time and effort is wasted in organising infrastructure and facilities."
The Prime Minister wanted research opportunities for young scientists to be widened and he emphasised it is necessary to "recapture the essence of the university system, where students occupy centrestage".
Another issue was the stagnant allocations for R&D. For the past three years, the government R&D outlay has hovered at around Rs 100 crore. Balasubramanian sought Rs 500 crore for 1993-94 to offset the deficiency in funding. S K Sinha, director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, suggested "commercialising the results of research and reinvesting royalties and profits" to reduce dependence on government funding.
Agriculture was another concern. Sinha warned against complacency in food management in India. He said the changeover from staple crops to cash crops had resulted in inadequate land use and rapid depletion of groundwater. "To tackle this," Sinha said, "there should be concrete policies for agriculture and groundwater use."
Sinha also warned against relying too much on biotechnology to increase food crop yields for the next seven years. "Instead, attention has to be paid to drylands, better land and water management and the use of hybrid seeds and fertilisers," he said.
Research management, project delays and promotions, were also discussed in some detail. The Prime Minister asked the scientists to come up with some positive suggestions. But, as P V Indiresan of IIT in Delhi commented, "the meeting was too unstructured. It could have yielded concrete results if some preparatory work had been done to prioritise issues".
However, Y S Rajan, adviser in the department of science and technology, said, "The idea was to provide an informal atmosphere for an exchange of views. The Prime Minister wanted to listen to the scientists and it was a very fruitful exchange of ideas."