Special status for India in global village


By M G K Menon
Published: Sunday 15 August 1993

THIS OBJECTIVE and creditable book brought out by UNESCO is based on discussions organised under the auspices of the International Council for Science Policy Studies (ICSPS), a section of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPS). These are representative of the main schools of thought in the history of science, philosophy and science policy.

The studies on which this book is based were commissioned by UNESCO in 1988-89. The world has seen tremendous changes since World War II and a large number of former colonies have achieved independence. But political independence has not bettered the lot of the down-trodden all over the world.

The end of World War II aroused euphoric feelings that the world had seen enough conflict. Science and technology developed, affecting production (beginning with the Industrial Revolution) and the personal lives of people and the way their society functioned. The world is becoming a global village, and though the Cold War is over, there are still conflicts, social injustice and poverty.

In this analysis of the global scene in the post-World War II era, it becomes clear all nations have to fit into a global society. Structural characteristics of the world's economic and political systems, based on the capabilities provided by science and technology, are fostering increasing integration and globalisation. New techno-industrial systems are resulting from these advances -- including new manufacturing methods, economic blocs and strategic alliances. Many new and powerful technologies, such as micro-electronics, optronics, chemical and material technologies are now practised widely and the new biotechnologies are poised for incredible breakthroughs.
Central role for S&T However, new problems confront the world, which is still in a state of flux and turbulence. The book reviews developing countries, categorised in terms of their S&T capabilities, and examines alternate futures and policy frameworks for each category. The author's conclusions are indisputable: There is a central role for science and technology in development; for S&T to be effective, it must have a viable base; science and technology have to be closely related, for the developed countries achieved that status through their S&T, and so could developing countries. Regarding India and China, the book states they are "virtually unclassifiable, and call for a special group".

It adds: "The scale on which their problems must be identified and tackled bears little resemblance to other countries' experiences, which may thus be of little relevance. The challenge here is to create radically new conditions for the effective development and exploitation of the S&T base."

We can learn a great deal from this book, but we will have to work out our own strategies, because a comparison of the Indian situation with that of other developing countries can lead to seriously erroneous conclusions. Science policy makers in developing countries should certainly look at this book for it contains an interesting background and analysis of global developments, which can form the basis for framing a country's policy and progress. The book's weakness is that it is not explicit concerning what science and technology can do to attain sustainable development, nor is this emphasised sufficiently.

MGK Menon is president of the International Council of Scientific Unions and former Union minister for science and technology.

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