The 91st Indian Science Congress was old wine in a tainted bottle
Rosy promises to make India a developed country by 2020, and shedding crocodile tears over the young generation's lack of interest in science were the highlights of the 91st session of the Indian Science Congress. The meet, held in Chandigarh from January 3-7, 2004, would be remembered for the non-participation of many prominent scientists and patrons of science, including Prime Minister Vajpayee. The cold wave sweeping the city, or rather the much colder attitude of political and scientific leaders, ensured lowest-ever participation in the annual event, despite the session's catchy focal theme: 'science and society in 21st century: quest for excellence'.
A popular theme is not a good enough incentive, pointed out some scientists. "You do not miss much even if you skip a session, as year after year you see the same set of speakers delivering keynote lectures," said a senior scientist from the New Delhi-based National Institute of Immunology. A researcher from the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, who received the young scientist award at last year's congress, also confessed that attending such events is a waste of time.
Such ideas could have been discussed thoroughly if leading scientists had attended the congress. The three scientific government departments -- department of space, department of atomic energy and the Defence Research and Development Organisation -- that cornered almost 60 per cent of the Rs 14,670 crore allocated for research in 2003-2004, were missing in action. The heads of these high-profile scientific agencies chose to stay away. Similarly, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, which boasts of having the largest number of scientific personnel in the country, decided to be content by sending one of its eight deputy-director generals, despite the subject of plant science accorded prominence in the meet attended by about 4,000 delegates.
For the first time, the authorities also decided to do away with the presentation of an 'Action Taken Report'. The report, generally presented by the secretary of the department of science and technology, informs the congress about the actions initiated on the recommendations made at the previous session.
If such important aspects continue to be ignored in future sessions, then the need for hosting the event would be certainly questioned. It seems that only a complete overhaul will help the biggest scientific event of India get back its long-lost prominence.
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