Why Modi government is finally waking up to the need for reform in science and technology
It is better late than never that we have a panel of experts to advise the PM on issues relating to science, technology and innovation.
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New advisory committees are usually appointed when a new government takes over. That’s why it is a bit surprising that the present government decided to appoint a new Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) in its penultimate year in office. By the time the council meets, deliberates on the vast agenda it has been charged with and comes up with some meaningful advice, it will be time for a new government. Advisory councils on economic affairs and climate change were set up in the first year of the present government’s tenure.
In any case, it is better late than never that we have a panel of experts to advise the government and the prime minister on issues relating to science, technology and innovation. However, this does not imply that there was an "advisory vacuum" in science and technology until now. We have had the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) and the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet (SAC-C). In addition, there was Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister which was defunct and now stands disbanded along with SAC-C.
The government has decided to set-up a new Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council. (Photo: Reuters)
The PSA and advisory committee to the cabinet together have been working on almost all the terms of reference assigned to the PM-STIAC for several years. Incidentally, several of the members of the new council were associated with SAC-C too either as members or special invitees.
If the new council is serious about its job, it should refrain from reinventing the wheel but should begin where earlier councils have left. For instance, several terms of reference of the new council relate to commercialisation of indigenous technologies and greater application of science and technology by other Union ministries as well as states. A number of significant research-industry initiatives were triggered and catalysed by earlier councils.
These include setting up of Centres for Nano-Science in Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and IIT Bombay; implementation of the high precision grinding machine tool project funded by the Department of Heavy Industry at IIT-M for machine tool development projects on a costsharing basis with industry; preproject activities by a consortium of research institutes for building Advanced Ultra Supercritical thermal power plant; Department of Commerce initiative of identifying technologically upgradable engineering goods for electric motors, industrial valves, and biomedical devices. Detailed recommendations also exist on some of the vexing issues such as mobility of scientists among scientific departments, national laboratories, etc; retaining young talent in scientific research and attracting scientists from foreign institutions.
The new council should fast-track its mandate on reforms and come up with a set of recommendations before the term of the present government ends. (Photo: PTI)
The new council can make itself relevant and useful if it can focus on one of the overarching terms of reference — “suggest reforms and measures to strengthen various aspects of science and technology organisations”. Indian research and academic R&D bodies need fundamental reforms. They need to be freed from bureaucracy and governmental intervention. The council should fast-track its mandate on reforms and come up with a set of recommendations before the term of the present government ends. Though the council is a closed group, it should keep its working transparent and make it as democratic as possible.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)