Indian Science Congress 2003. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (left) with K. Kasturirangan, chair of the Indian Space Research Organization.

A New Road for Indian Science

BANGALORE--Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today laid out a new road map for science and technology, promising to double the country's spending on research over 5 years, improve training, and streamline bureaucracy. Speaking to 6000 delegates gathered here for the annual meeting of the Indian Science Congress, Vajpayee also proposed "a new funding mechanism for basic research" that observers likened to the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The 28-page report grows out of a 2-year dialogue with the scientific community on how India can become a bigger presence in the international research community. Although it lacks details, it is a major improvement over piecemeal, outdated statements that officials had been using to guide the country since it shifted from a state-run to a market-based economy in the early 1990s. "The new policy is anchored in our abiding belief that for science and technology to grow, it must be green, it must be ethical, it must have a human face … and it must empower the community as a whole and not merely a section of it," says physicist Murli Manohar Joshi, cabinet minister for human resource development, science and technology, and ocean development and a key architect of the plan.

The prime minister called on Indian scientists to curb the large number of advanced degrees "of indifferent quality" being awarded by the nation's universities and to avoid "becoming afflicted with the [bureaucratic] culture of our government agencies." He also urged industry to increase its support for research. N. R. Narayana Murthy, chair of Infosys Technologies Limited in Bangalore, a giant global software company, applauded the new policy as a way "to help the Indian S&T community better focus its research efforts."

Not everyone is so optimistic, however. C.N.R. Rao, an organic chemist and honorary president of the Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, says that real change will require considerably more than a few supportive words from the prime minister. Although Rao praises the document's linkage of science and technology and welcomes any boost in spending, he fears that the country's notorious bureaucracy will resist any permanent reform effort.

The job of fleshing out the new policy is likely to fall on Valangiman Subramanian Ramamurthy, a nuclear physicist and secretary of the Department of Science and Technology. "The policy is only the beginning," he says. But Ramamurthy believes that the chances of success have improved now that "a succinct, undisputed, and generalized road map has been made available by the government."

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