ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Science : Grass Roots Concerns

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The Indian Science Congress has pursued, for 88 years, the task of promoting and projecting Indian science. In recent years this showcase of Indian science has had nothing much to show. Take, for instance, the theme of the current session, 'Food, Nutrition and Environmental Security'. In the preamble to the congress's vision statement, particular attention is paid to stressing that "thanks to the cutting-edge of science and technology, India has moved from chronic shortages to an era of surpluses in most food products, erasing the memories of the famine and mass starvation". However, inequity persists in that a large proportion of labour households still do not have enough to eat. Further, as the statement says, "vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies persist and is serious". While the surpluses are true enough, they have not done away with starvation or even deaths due to lack of food, whatever the definitions employed. Lack of food continues to be a major problem and its resolution does not lie in the laboratory or the experimental field, but in a transformation of power equations which prevent some sections from accessing the bounties of science and technology. Food security, an aim that the prime minister chose to focus on, is not in the realm of science, but in the process of empowerment, which makes it possible for people to ensure food security for themselves and their families. This includes at one end employment and at another education, neither of which has witnessed notable advance.

The objective of the Science Congress, year after year, is to focus on global themes, but not on the processes which make things happen. Expanding public investment in education is one thing, but ensuring the delivery of quality education is quite another. The present government has pledged to increase investment in research to 2 per cent of GDP from the current level of 0.7 per cent. But the first priority must be to keep children in schools. But even where there are schools and other institutions, state governments have of late faced difficulties in disbursing salaries. In Maharashtra, for instance, college and secondary school teachers have not received their salaries in full because the state government claims to have no funds for the necessary grants to schools and colleges. Enrolment in higher education in science has fallen in many states and the rate of increase has shown a negative trend in others. The entire focus is on projecting visions and encouraging expansion of research, not on the fundamental need to enlarge the scientific education base.

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