All smiles on the first day. Science minister Jitendra Singh (center) has a word with top deputies Shailesh Nayak, secretary for earth sciences, and K. VijayRaghavan, secretary for biotechnology.

Pallava Bagla

All smiles on the first day. Science minister Jitendra Singh (center) has a word with top deputies Shailesh Nayak, secretary for earth sciences, and K. VijayRaghavan, secretary for biotechnology.

Physicians Take the Helm at India's Science and Health Ministries

NEW DELHI—India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, today appointed a pair of physicians to the top science jobs in his Cabinet.

Science minister Jitendra Singh, 57, a diabetes specialist from the conflict-riven state of Jammu and Kashmir, has studied, among other things, stress as a cause of diabetes in Kashmiri Hindus forced to migrate from the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley in the 1990s. Singh has several hot potatoes already on his plate, including crafting regulations governing genetically modified foods and how to make clinical trials more transparent. Singh told ScienceInsider that he feels “tense” about meeting the expectations of India’s scientific community. “A new odyssey has begun,” he says.

Indian scientists are giving Singh’s appointment a warm reception. He’s a “genial man with great organizational skills,” says Ambrish Mithal, past president of the Endocrine Society of India. “[I’m] very excited to have a new minister with such high professional qualifications,” adds K. VijayRaghavan, secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, who will report to Singh.

The other physician joining the Cabinet is Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, 59, an ear, nose, and throat specialist. A champion of the oral polio vaccine in India in the 1990s who coined the phrase “two drops of life,” Vardhan is credited with having helped India achieve polio-free status earlier this year.

Modi struck a pro-science tone during the campaign and reiterated his support on the eve of his party’s resounding victory, remarking on National Technology Day on 11 May that “[o]ur Scientists are our strength and will help shape our future in this Knowledge Era.”

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