Quantum Leap

How science under Modi equals to headless labs and budget cuts

The Indian Council of Medical Research is without a full-time director general.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  2-minute read |   15-05-2015
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be grabbing headlines for his foreign policy initiatives, but respected scientific journal Nature has slammed his government for poor performance in science and technology. In a special issue on India, the magazine has highlighted various problems plaguing Indian science - inadequate funding, leadership vacancies in research laboratories and curbs on dissenting voices. Though Modi, like his predecessor, has promised to cut the red tape in scientific bodies, the journal says not much has changed on the ground.

"India must tackle the bureaucratic morass that is impeding research and innovation. Scientists complain that funds for grants routinely arrive months late and that it can take years to fill positions. As a measure of the problem, one-third of the national laboratories, which are overseen by the prestigious Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), lack permanent leaders," the journal has observed in its editorial.

"The current situation is indeed challenging. The CSIR is the backbone of scientific and technological research in the country. In case the prevailing scenario continues, it will affect the national innovation system as a whole," the CSIR director-general, Madhukar Garg, is quoted as saying in the journal.

It's not just lab directors' posts that are lying vacant but also those of top leadership at funding agencies. The CSIR itself was headless for a long time. Even Garg has been appointed as a stop gap arrangement - for six months. Another research conglomerate, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is also without a full-time director general. About ten labs of the ICMR are being overseen by in-charge directors. The department of science and technology got a secretary after almost a year.

In addition to adhocism in governance of scientific institutions, budgets of almost all scientific departments have either been slashed or are just stagnating. While the Modi government has publicly vowed to promote renewable sources of energy, allocations for the ministry of new and renewable sources of energy has been cut by 68 per cent compared to the last fiscal.

The editorial has also cautioned about the government's move to silence dissent, particularly critics of its policies on energy, climate and human rights. "The government revoked the registrations of thousands of non-governmental organisations that receive foreign funds, and it has frozen the assets of Greenpeace over claims that it had violated reporting rules about foreign contributions," the editorial noted.

"But scientists in India should not cheer the government's attempts to suppress dissent, even if it helps them to achieve their research goals. It would be wrong to blame environmental advocates for India's lengthy and fault-ridden procedures for weighing up the impact of projects", the journal has said. The solution, it says, is not to silence discussion or to shrink environmental oversight but in improving environmental evaluation process.

The special issue of the scientific journal has highlighted long-term trends such as return of talented scientists and work being done in biotechnology, vaccine research and success in space missions.

Writer

Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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