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Modi asks scientists to help foster country's development

03 January 2015

Technology is a great enabler and at the same time a great leveller and science and technology are invaluable allies in governance and development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while inaugurating the 102nd session of the Indian Science Congress in Mumbai today.

Human civilization has advanced because of the basic human spirit of enquiry and quest for understanding our universe and world, Modi said. ''It is a search driven by the belief in what our Vedas described as, Satye Sarvam Pratisthanam - Everything is established in Truth.''

''Science and technology has helped reduce poverty and advance prosperity; fight hunger and improve nutrition; conquer diseases, improve health and give a child a better chance to survive; connect us to our loved ones and the world; spread education and awareness; and, given us clean energy that can make our habitat more sustainable.''

A nation's progress and its human development are linked to science and technology. He cited China's emergence in recent times as the second biggest global economy, which, he said, is in parallel to its rise to the second place in science and technology activities.

Modi said he is for giving universities more academic freedom and autonomy and promised to cut excessive regulation and cumbersome procedures to encourage research. "We want our scientists to explore the mysteries of science and not of government procedure," Modi said.

"Our institutions of research must become more broad-based. Our universities must have a higher degree of academic freedom and autonomy," Modi said.

In turn the universities must also subscribe to highest standards of academic excellence and accountability, Modi said.

Citing complaints of red tape by the scientific community in the country including delays in funding for research and approval processes, the prime minister stressed that ease of doing research is as important as the ease of doing business.

"As the major source of science and technology, government must do its part. When I speak of ease of doing business in India, I also want to pay equal attention to the ease of doing research and development in India," Modi said.

Emphasising the need to popularise science and technology, he said, "Our children should see role models in scientists as much as in sportsmen."

Science and technology can also remove national barriers, unify the world and advance peace. It can bring nations, rich and poor, in a shared effort to address global challenges.

But, we also know that it can increase inequality, make wars more lethal and damage our environment. Sometimes, we learn about their consequences later, as we did on climate change; sometimes, these are the result of our own choices.

For example, information technology was meant to increase efficiency and productivity; sometimes, however, its various distractions can easily overpower us! How often do we sit in meetings and cannot resist the temptation to catch up on our messages!

So, when we speak of science and human development, we cannot divorce it from the questions of political decisions; social choices; and of equity, ethics and access.

While praising the achievements of Indian scientists, Modi said, they should not blind us to the enormous challenges that we face in India. Human development has been the larger purpose and the driving force of Indian scientific pursuits. And, science has helped shape modern India.

We are at yet another moment of expectation and excitement, as we were at the birth of independent India. There is a mood of optimism for change in the country; the energy to pursue it; and, confidence to achieve it.

But, the dreams we all share for India will depend as much on science and technology as it will on policy and resources:

  • To make our agriculture more resilient and yield more; to develop appropriate and affordable technologies for rural areas;
  • To do more from every drop of water; and, explore the potential of marine resources;
  • To preserve our biodiversity; and keep our environment clean;
  • To improve healthcare and develop medicines and medical devices that is within the reach of poorest;
  • To make clean energy affordable and its use more efficient;
  • To use technology to realise our dream of housing and sanitation for all;
  • To find our own solutions to make our cities cleaner and more habitable;
  • To turn waste into wealth and resources for sustainable infrastructure of the future;
  • To use internet to improve human development;
  • To make India a leading manufacturing nation; and a hub for knowledge and technology-intensive industries;

To me, the arms of science, technology and innovation must reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person. This is an enterprise of national importance in which each of us - government, industry, national laboratories, universities and research institutions - have to work together.

Too often, a discussion on science and technology is reduced to a question of budgets. It is important; and I am confident that it will continue to grow, he said.

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