Contemporary India and Science!

Updated: Feb 27, 2012, 16:30 PM IST

Salome Phelamei

Think of a world without science, technology or math. How dull and difficult it would be - fairly unthinkable isn’t it? We are fortunate enough that science, which is one of the greatest blessings for humanity, has transformed our lives from impossible to possible, thus enabling an easier, comfortable and smoother life for us.

Today, as the nation unites in celebrating ‘National Science Day’, it is also a day to honour Indian physicist and Nobel laureate Sir CV Raman and his legacy. It was on this very day when the genius scientist announced the invention of ‘Raman Effect’ in 1928. Therefore, February 28th is observed as National Science Day every year in remembrance of him and his incredible discovery, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930.

On this day, universities, schools, colleges, scientific institutions and science-based agencies across the country celebrate science day in a relevant way by holding various conducts such as Science and Technology exhibitions, popular lectures, quiz and essay competitions and other appropriate activities to create more awareness of scientific temper amongst people. For this year, the focal theme for ‘National Science Day’ is ‘Clean Energy Options and Nuclear Safety’.

Clean energy is essential

Renewable energy is vital owing to various benefits--- environmental advantages, energy for our offspring, jobs, economy and energy security etc.

Everyday, we hear of the global warming threat and the fatal consequences it poses on our environment and human life. But the situation won’t improve unless we begin to act swiftly. Fuelling fears over future environmental strategy and public health issues, both government and non-government organisations in our country are trying hard for a clean and green social innovation.

India, blessed with loads of sunlight, water and biomass, now, has the world`s largest programme for renewable energy. With an increase growth of 52% in 2011 in the country’s green energy, the solar force is also changing India into a clean tech thrust. According to data released by analysts Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), solar investments in India piloted the growth with a seven-fold rise in funding, from $0.6bn in 2010 to $4.2bn in 2011, just below the $4.6bn invested in wind during the year. In 2011, a record 2,827MW of wind energy capacity was also added, which set aside India third behind China and the United States in terms of new installations.

India’s energy crisis

Nuclear power holds fourth-largest source of electricity in the country after thermal, hydroelectric and renewable sources. India has 20 nuclear reactors in operation in six nuclear power plants, generating 4,780MW while seven other reactors are under construction and are expected to generate an additional 5,300 MW, as of 2010.

However, concerns over building of nuclear plants have swelled up following the March 2011 Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster. Putting the government in a tight spot, there have thus been mass protests at Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu and Jaitapur in Maharashtra, raising questions about atomic energy as a clean and safe alternative to fossil fuels. Perhaps, the West Bengal state government has also refused permission to a proposed 6000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that planned to host six Russian reactors.

China overtake India

Despite India making a good progress scientifically, today- be it in space exploration, hi-tech innovation or in medicinal field, the country has been surpassed by nations like China in this field. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, while speaking at the 99th Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneswar in January, said that China has overtook India in research and development (R&D), in spite of increased funding over the past few decades.

The Prime Minister urged women to take up careers in science where they are poorly represented. Singh also asked the industry to increase expenditure on R&D and help achieve the target of spending two per cent of the GDP on research by the end of the 12th Plan.

Adding more woes to Indian education system, a report from Prime Minister’s scientific advisory council, headed by chemist CNR Rao stated that India does not have any educational institutions that are in the world’s top 100. And since its universities have decayed owing to years of neglect, and that even its leading institutions “are not performing well”, South Korea and China have “out-classed our performance in terms of the number of PhDs scientific research papers and so on”, added the panel.

The need for an overhaul

There is an urgent need for radical structural reforms in the country’s education system. And, after proper review on the nation’s scientific scenario, and to preserve science, the government needs to adopt a suitable policy and take necessary steps such as- refurbish structural and educational systems, enhance fund for scientific research, and send as many students as possible to advanced centres overseas for PhD and postdoctoral studies.

However, the above ‘set outlines’ may be tough to achieve, unless, the government resolves the current leadership crisis, which is marred by a series of corruption cases. Then only, India can produce the next ‘big-bang innovations’, making the country a proud world leader in science.

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