Bring scientists out of their ivory labs

There have been many a slip between developing technology and applying it to everyday life

By P V Narasimha Rao
Published: Tuesday 30 June 1992

THERE IS A missing link that keeps the work of our scientists very insulated. It keeps their work from reaching potential beneficiaries. These are educated people who ought to know. They visit Delhi regularly from areas where such work could be of use but are totally unaware of what is being done.

I am sure that scientists themselves are not required to disseminate information. It is somebody else's job and the fact that it is not happening shows that this somebody is not working. That is the missing link we have to supply. Scientists have to be seen to be doing something.

This is where pure and applied science should go hand in hand. Scientists cannot devote themselves to only one at the expense of the other. I am glad that we are trying to take care of both, but we are still unable to do so adequately. The country has scarce resources and one has to take these limitations into account in whatever one does. There is ample room to improve and we have to do this.

Prof M G K Menon bemoaned the fact that the scientific community and programme in the country were receiving a setback and that they were not going as they should. There are far too many areas needing the government's attention for it to be able to single out any one for special attention. But this area, I agree, deserves nothing less than special attention and this attention has to be different from that which is paid to others. We have moved on the matter and will soon come up with the most cogent and comprehensive scheme permitted by our resources. So we will examine how to restore what is missing. This kind of programme has to be continuous. If there is a break, then whatever you do goes waste.

I had recently been to Pauri Garhwal and, before that, to Uttarkashi after the earthquake. The people there told me that there was something wrong with the design of the houses. This should have been obvious when thousands of houses collapsed. In Pauri, they said that, if anything of the sort happened, it would damage the structures and kill thousands of people. I had nothing to say in answer. There is a research institute in Roorkee University and I thought that they were doing something about the design of houses in earthquake-prone areas, a fact corroborated by Bhandari and other friends.

I assure the scientific community that whatever has to be done will be done with whatever speed is possible. I am very happy about the fields in which the scientists have been working. The gene bank, for instance, is a matter of national honour. We have taken it up as India's programme for the developing countries. If we don't show anything, it is not just India, but India's prestige abroad, that will lose out.

The other field that we consider a matter of honour is solar energy. I have been putting pressure on those working in it. I think there has been some dynamism introduced into it and we hope to be able to do something for the developing countries. This will not just be for the sake of making money or for selling our technology, but because the developing countries have to help themselves before they can expect help from others. We are doing all this as part of a programme. I am very particular about these two areas as I feel that India's position among the developing countries will be assured if we do something worthwhile.

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao made these observations while giving away the O P Bhasin awards for science and technology at New Delhi on May 20.

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