Published: Sunday 15 June 1997

Replicate white elephants?

Recently in a national daily, U R Rao, former chairperson of Indian Space Research Organisation (isRo), was reported to have suggested that organisational structures "successfully working" in the space and atomic energy sectors be "replicated" in other areas such as civil aviation for "greater productivity". Rao said that the country never faced the problem of finding money for good projects.

The high-flying science babus are indeed capable of burning away monstrous sums of money. Rao may wish the common people to believe that they are able to afford telecom links and see quality telecasts due to 'achievements' of ism but there is a limit to which people can be fooled.

The defense research pundits may flaunt their breakthroughs in having come out with technology demonstrators with (almost) total indigenous efforts, but at what cost and to whom? About the organisational structures in the department of atomic energy, which can only show an installed power generation capacity of 1,100 mw after gobbling up 20 per cent of the science and technology budget after 30 years, the less said the better.

Does Rao want the 'other areas' oo to be put behind a thick veil of secrecy to function sad competition 'to 'show' successful 4rking? Does he want the people to tighten their belts a littf ore and be 'proud of the achievements' of the aviation babus also?

Top frontier science experts researching in the'atomic energy, space and defense sectors appropriate what should legitmately go to 'humble' scientists working in areas like agriculture, sustainable farrhing, nature conservation, public health and hygiene, veterinary and dairy sciences, and water management.

R A Mashelkar, director general of toe Council for Scientific and Industrial Ifesearch (CSIR) @ecently waxed eloquent about the 'most pro-science budget' whiA allocated a princely sum of Rs 50 crore to modernise CSIR'S primitive laboratories. The bureaucrat may not be unaware that the allocation to the science white elephant in the budget is a whopping Rs 4,687 crore.

If the country is to make any headway in science that is useful to those who pay through their noses, the white elephants need to be slaughtered forthwith, not replicated. ...

Running backward

It was heartening to be a part of the recently launched Campaign Against Air Pollution by the Centre for Science and Environment. You have been bringing to focus the extremely alarming situation and the equally extreme callousness of the powers that be.

Several years ago, Indian petrol pumps used to give only low-octane petrol, as the car engines were of comparatively low compression. In the '80s, introduction of 'modern' cars and bikes having higher compression engines needing petrol with a higher octane value caused an increase in lead emissions, and we are now trying to go to 'more modern' cars running on lead-free (low-octane) petrol. Either way, a nice fat income for car/bike makers.

The harmful effect of lead on our brains was known before we went in for increased lead in our petrol to bring in imported 'modern' technology. Nevertheless, our policy makers went ahead with this.

Even though well tested four-stroke engine technology is commercially available, almost all the 'modern' two-wheeler technology we imported from 'advanced' countries are of the highly polluting two-stroke variety. The cost difference between the two is very small but to our policy makers, this cost must have appeared bigger than the cost in terms of the health effect from lead in petrol.

And in their wisdom our policy makers also abolished the lower rate of excise duty on fuel efficient vehicles a few years ago, removing the incentive to make less polluting vehicles. Having big swanky fuel guzzling cars at a marginally lower cost was so much more important.

Let me ask here, who really makes policies - industry, politicians or bureaucrats? And for what consideration? ...

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