‘Science in India’
Prof. C.N.R. Rao,
Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for
Advanced Scientific Research,
I remember the day when India got freedom on August 15, 1947. I had just entered college at that time. The excitement of the day still reverberates in my mind. What is interesting is that even in the early days of independent India, there was promise that science would play an important role in development. India was poor then, but there were high hopes. As early as 1958, India passed the science policy resolution in the parliament where the Prime Minister declared that science will be employed for the benefit of the nation. We have built many educational and research institutions since then. Because of the reasonable infrastructure that we had created, many of us had the feeling around 1980’s that we may soon become competitive in science and do outstanding research as good as anywhere. However, due to the changes in the geopolitical scenario and globalization, the world changed. Today, we have Asian neighbours who have emerged as major leaders in science. While we may be doing reasonably well, others are doing better. India finds itself in a position where it is nowhere near the top of the world in science. We still contribute about 3% to world science as we did many years ago. America contributes close to 16% of world science. China is getting pretty close to America in this regard. I am not that worried about quantity, but unfortunately, the quality of Indian science has not improved much. India contributes to less than 1% of the top 1% of world research. Much of the high quality research comes from the US. China is improving its status in this respect as well, although it was in the same position as India a few years ago. While there are individuals who have done quite well in some of the fields (just as in the pre-independence days), the overall performance from the country as a whole has to improve to a significant extent. There are not many educational and research institutions in the country comparable to the best ones elsewhere. In fact, there are signs of decay in many of them and the University sector is badly in need of rejuvenation. What does one do in such a scenario?
First of all, we should improve our institutions by greater investment. More than money, minds are required. Scientists have to work on challenging and important problems of relevance to science and the economy. We also have to work harder to be able to compete, and we have to be more generous to the young. We should remember that in today’s science, one has to gallop even to remain stationary. We have to change our value system in a big way. Science and education have to get greater importance in society. In this presentation, we shall examine how we can improve the situation through the participation of scientists, planners, administrators and citizens as a whole. Besides scientific research and education, one has to be concerned about scientific temper amongst the citizens of the country. It is essential that all our citizens inculcate scientific attitude since the future of India depends on citizens who can contribute to the society because of their commitment and convictions. In order to do this, teaching has to get greater respect in our value system. School education in India comes at the bottom amongst the nations of the world, Finland being at the very top. Science education at elementary and high school levels have to be given greater importance and the entire society has to help in raising the quality of teachers as well as institutions while the government and industry help to increase the investment.
What should scientists have to do? Scientific research should deal with three aspects: frontiers of science, science related to the pressing problems of human kind and science in those areas where India can be a global leader. Then, scientists have to remember Faraday’s simple definition of what doing science means. “Work, Finish and Publish”. Faraday also said that it is choosing the problem that is difficult, not doing. I close by reiterating that the long-term development and progress of India depends crucially on the foundation of science and science education. I do hope that India will emerge to be amongst the top five countries in the world in science by making the right choices and investments
Prof. C.N.R. Rao is the National Research Professor as well as Honorary President and Linus Pauling Research Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru. His main research interests are in solid state and materials chemistry. He is the author of over 1600 research papers and 48 books. Prof. Rao is a member of many of the major science academies in the world including the Royal Society, London, the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., the Russian Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, Japan Academy as well as the American Philosophical Society. He is a Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Foreign Fellow of Academia Europaea, the Royal Society of Canada and of the Chinese Academy of Sciences