January 3-7


With science and confidence

Prof M S Swaminathan

UNESCO Cousteau Chair in Echotechnology and
Chairman, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.

M S Swaminathan
Prof M S Swaminathan

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU, who helped to shape our tryst with destiny during the first two decades of our independence, was firmly of the view that a strong scientific base and a scientific temper are the most powerful catalysts of both economic performance and social progress. The Chandigarh Science Congress will bear evidence to the impressive strength we have gained over the years in the fields of space and information and communication technologies, nuclear and biotechnologies as well as in agricultural, industrial, medical and renewable energy technologies. The power of synergy among political action, professional skill and people's participation was first clearly demonstrated in 1968 in the Punjab-Haryana region through the scientific transformation of farming or what is popularly known as the Green Revolution.

Writing in the Illustrated Weekly of India in 1969 on the "Punjab Miracle", I stated:

"Brimming with enthusiasm, hard-working, skilled and determined, the Punjab farmer has been the backbone of the revolution. Revolutions are usually associated with the young, but in this revolution, age has been no obstacle to participation. Farmers, young and old, educated and uneducated, have easily taken to the new agronomy. It has been heart-warming to see young college graduates, retired officials, ex-armymen, illiterate peasants and small farmers queuing up to get the new seeds. Atleast in the Punjab, the divorce between intellect and labour, which has been the bane of our agriculture is vanishing".

The farm women and men of this region are now ready to launch an ever-green revolution in agriculture designed to assist in improving productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological or social harm. Such an evergreen revolution movement has to based on eco-technologies which can help to conserve and enhance the ecological foundations essential for sustainable advances in productivity. Ecotechnologies can be developed only through new innovations and inventions based on blending traditional wisdom with frontier science.

The first question we should ask is, "do we have a management culture which fosters creativity and helps to promote a pro-nature, pro-poor, pro-women and pro-employment orientation to the development and dissemination of new technologies". The second question is, "do we have technology delivery systems which can help to reach the unreached and voice the voiceless?" A final question is, "how can we bridge the growing gap between scientific know-how and field level do how, so that our untapped production potential can be converted into jobs and income?" I would like to deal briefly with these issues.

Our Prime Minister has been emphasizing at every Science Congress session that we must foster a management culture which will recognize and promote creativity as well as social relevance in our R & D organizations. To stress the importance of science and technology in improving the quality of life and in eliminating hunger and poverty in our country, the Prime Minister added Jai Vigyan to Lal Bahadur Shastri's slogan, "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan". Nevertheless, we must admit that we have still a long way to go in fostering the spirit of innovation and invention in our Universities and R & D establishments. Also, we are yet to make progress in making more young people to undertake the exciting adventure of carrying an idea toward the market place. This is clear from the poor response of young farm graduates in taking to projects like the establishment of Agri-Clinics and Agri-business Centres.

Scientific and Development Departments which are professionally managed like the Science and Technology, Space, Atomic Energy, Biotechnology and Ocean Departments as well as ICAR, CSIR and ICMR have on the whole done well in both generating new technologies and taking these to the level of application. The National Dairy Development Board is another example of the power of professional management. Unfortunately, most of our Development Departments as well as scientific departments like Environment and Forests are headed by generalists who also change their jobs frequently. More and more technical departments in State Governments are coming under the control of administrators who have neither the necessary technical expertise nor the opportunity for long term commitment essential for worthwhile achievements. Unless our political leaders walk their talk in the matter of harnessing science and technology for generating more jobs and income through a management culture based on scientific knowledge and expertise, the economic and social divides we witness today in our county will expand further.

We need urgent efforts in addressing the basic issues of hunger, poverty, gender inequity and environmental degradation facing our country. So long as the human resource is undervalued and land and material resources are over valued, poverty will persist. Nearly every third child born in our country is characterized by low birth weight (LBW) caused by maternal and foetal undernutrition. Such LBW children suffer from handicaps in realizing their innate genetic potential for mental development. This is the cruelest form of inequity in the present knowledge era.

Finally, as the power of science over nature grows, as is happening in the area of molecular biology, there is need to match the technology push with an ethical pull. Rabelais once said, "science is but the conscience of the soul". The products of human creativity and inventiveness should strengthen and not endanger human security and well being. In an age of expanding proprietary science, we should realize that the greatest threats to the progress of science are social exclusion and the growing violence in the human heart. Participants at the Chandigarh Science Congress should stress that even if we are capable of landing a man on the moon, the future of our country will be shaped only by our ability to erase the unenviable distinction of being a land where the largest number of ultra-poor and undernourished children, women and men live, where the sex ratio is increasingly becoming adverse to women, and where the human population supporting capacity of ecosystems has already been exceeded in many areas.

In 1997, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of our independence, the then President of India mentioned that our adherence to a democratic system of governance and our becoming self-sufficient in food production are the twin great achievements of the first fifty years of freedom from Colonialism. On August 15, 2007, our President should be in a position to add that freedom from hunger and acute deprivation are also achievements of independent India. This is politically, economically and technologically feasible. The right to food is also the first among the Millennium Development goals of the United Nations. Harnessing science and technology for making the concept of "food, health, work and education for all" come true, has to be the bottom line of our research and development policies and priorities.