THE focal theme this year at the 94th Indian Science Congress was 'Planet Earth', the centrality of the "natural habitat" in everything that humans did or sought to do. So it was that the focus, this year, was on factors that affected the natural resource base--and therefore people, for there is no ecosystem in India people don't inhabit--came as pure fresh breath.
If the Congress' vision statement was to be believed, every scientist had decided to commit themselves to sustainable development. A mode of growth they subscribed to, made possible through expertise, or a technicist temperament desiring to turn ecological. In fact, the prime minister asked Indian scientists to embrace societal requirements into their scientific agenda and promised doubling allocation for science (from less than 1 per cent of gdp to around 2 per cent) within 5 years.
A national science congress is essentially a political event where the scientific establishment's roadmap is charted out. In a way, this also points out the direction of political economy. We must celebrate the fact the Indian scientific establishment has decided to tackle matters of political economy. Is it possible that Indian scientists have thrown away their procedural shackles? More importantly, is it possible that they are ready to provide their expertise to intervene in matters environmental? Are they willing to go public on their research on pollution caused by waste? Are they willing to intervene, with their cutting-edge research?
To all these exciting questions, the Congress said no. Scientists like to live organised lives. They want global peer recognition. They have taken care of themselves; poor India can also take care of itself.
It is no wonder that the meaning of environmental protection is always lost in scientific translation that points towards technology that 'control' pollution. It is also no wonder that top-notch scientists write off renewable energy and sing the glory of nuclear power, rather than more efficient methods of mineral and oil extraction.
Scientists need not worry much about the sudden new direction of being socially sensitive. It seems business as usual. We may invoke the great understanding of the five elements. But natural elements are highly polluted, because culture of a nation is created by economic policies pursued over a long period.