M A I N   N E W S

Special to the tribune
Mission Mars: Critics slam ‘delusional quest’
Shyam Bhatia in London

ISRO chairman Radhakrishnan (C) and other scientists during the press conference at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on Tuesday
ISRO chairman Radhakrishnan (C) and other scientists during the press conference at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on Tuesday. — PTI

London-based The Times newspaper has launched a withering attack on New Delhi for launching a space mission to Mars at a time when “a third of the population has no private lavatory” and “every year 1.7 million Indian children die from preventable diseases”. Half the children who live suffer from malnutrition, the newspaper says in its biting editorial.

The Times, which is often thought to reflect the views of the ruling establishment, says India is no less susceptible to the lust for national glory, but points out that the country has a series of sores that would be better recipients of the $1 billion spent each year on the space programme.

Citing the UN Development Programme, the newspaper says there were more poor people in the eight poorest Indian states than in all of the 26 poorest African countries combined. One in three of the world’s malnourished children is Indian. “Corrupt government and poor services mean that in a country that is home to 55 billionaires, almost four in ten of the adult population cannot read,” says the editorial.

The editorial concludes by pointing out that agricultural labourers migrating from Maharashtra to Mumbai find a city with open sewers, filthy water and roads and a train system choked with people. “Before finding a way to Mars, the Indian authorities would be better off helping their people find a way to Mumbai.”

The Times is not the only critic of the space programme. In London, the political director of the (British) Taxpayers’ Alliance, Jonathan Isaby, commented: “It’s atrocious that taxpayers are still sending money to a country rich enough not just to have its own space programme, but one that is blasting off to Mars. If India can afford this kind of expenditure then it does not need a penny of British taxpayers’ money, especially when departments back home have to cut their spending.”

The Financial Times has quoted development economist Jean Dreze describing the Mars project as “part of India’s delusional quest for super power status”.

But there have been favourable comments as well. The Voice of America quotes Houston-based space consultant James Oberg as saying: "The time is now for many players to be doing many things across a much wider range of target goals than in the simple days of the moon race. It is not just playing a game, or showing off at the Olympics or something. It is actually making contributions to the world.”

“We have seen the technology that India has brought to the space program, very significant technology, and the goals of the program appear to me to be very realistic and very important for India as well as the rest of the world.”





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