Science & Technology

How the topmost scientific advisory body gradually slipped into oblivion

After the NDA came to power under Narendra Modi in 2014, the SAC-PM went defunct as the new government failed to reconstitute the council

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 28 March 2018

In January 2016, CNR Rao advised PM Narendra Modi to keep good science advisors on his side. Credit: Wikimedia CommonsK Vijayraghavan has been appointed the principal scientific advisor (PSA) to the Government of India. Before this, Vijayraghavan, a biologist by profession, was the secretary, Department of Biotechnology. He replaces nuclear scientist R Chidambaram, who completed more than16 years as the top science advisor to the Indian government. He will hold the post for another three years.

Vijayraghavan will also be chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Cabinet (SAC-C).

“SAC-C has members comprising of Secretaries of all Science Departments/Ministries, presidents of Indian Science and Engineering academics, presidents of Industry Associations, eminent technocrats from industry and senior faculty from academia,” according to the official website of the PSA.

The post of the PSA along with the SAC-C and the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (SAC-PM) was set up by the NDA government in 1999 to advise the government on all matters of science and help create an ecosystem of scientific innovation and development in the country.

After the NDA came back to power under Narendra Modi in 2014, the SAC-PM went defunct as the new government failed to reconstitute the council. Till 2014, it was led by C N R Rao, who was conferred the Bharat Ratna by the UPA-II government in 2013.

In an interview to the media in January 2016, the renowned chemist advised PM Narendra Modi to keep good science advisors on his side to solve various development challenges in the country. On the question of defunct nature of SAC-PM, he did not divulge much.

Scientific Advisory Council to the Cabinet still in action

The website, which had been active for some time, also seems to have been pulled down. However, the current government did retain the SAC-C in an advisory role to the PSA, which has met twice during the tenure of the current dispensation. It met for the first time on December 11, 2014 with an agenda to enable policies for rapid growth of S&T in the country.

In this meeting, the council constituted four sub-groups to work on topics such as trail funding of science projects and recruitment in scientific disciplines—including foreign nationals—mobility of researchers across organisations, enhancing academia-industry interactions, startup companies and indigenous innovations.

When the council met again on March 15, 2017, it discussed the progress that had been made in all the above-listed topics. During the intervening period, only one other sub-group meeting took place in October 2016 in which some ‘actionable points’ were decided upon.

In the 2017 meeting, the council also deliberated upon the challenges that still remained in implementing these broad policy initiatives for creating the much needed scientific atmosphere in the country. The council members mainly focused on encouragement for the young generation to take up science as a career. To this end, remuneration for contractual positions and new mechanisms for recruitment and creation of posts was discussed by the council members. Schemes for making doctoral programmes more engaging and inter-departmental were also proposed.

There have been discussions in the recent past about government stalling science in India. Bikash Sinha, former Homi Bhabha professor in the Department of Atomic Energy, recently expressed disappointment at an independent body for the funding of scientific research becoming “yet another branch of the government establishment”. He also rues the fact that “most of our science has become government-controlled”.

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