Awaken spirit of science

| | in Oped

CSIR, and the scientific community in general, must be empowered to do cutting research for national good

Addressing scientists at the Platinum Jubilee celebration of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on the need to bring science to homes to make the life of the common man easy, boost the income of farmers and kindle scientific spirit among children.

Modi made it clear that the scientists, including those from the country's largest civilian research agency, should not keep themselves confined to the four walls of the laboRATOries, but rather reach out to the masses through enduring solutions.

Giving hints at what was largely expected from scientists, the Prime Minister in his speech tried to recall some important inventions that have come from the house of CSIR and touched the lives of the crores of people in the country in a big way.

For instance, Modi talked about the indelible ink which, he said, is the hallmark of our democratic fabric. Little known to many, the indelible ink was first made back in 1952 by scientists of the CSIR National Physical Laboratory.

Further, the Prime Minister talked about ayurvedic anti-diabetic medicine, BGR-34, meant for Type II diabetes patients whose number is growing up due to sedentary lifestyle. Modi stressed on promoting the drugs among the users.

He also specifically talked about country's first tractor Swaraj. It was in 1974 the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, Durgapur gave the country ‘Swaraj' — the machine which can be credited for transforming India from being a net importer of food grains to a net exporter.

Not only this, the CSIR has over the years spread its wings far and wide, touching upon the lives of millions of people in as diverse fields as health, aviation and high-end technologies, to name a few. In fact, fighting malaria became easier with the development of anti-malarial drugs by the Central Drug Research Institute in Lucknow which also pioneered India's first weekly family planning pill, Saheli. The clot-buster drug Streptokinase came from a laboratory in Chandigarh.

Thanks to the CSIR again, that today India is a leader in the manufacturing of generic drugs and is known as the ‘low-cost pharmacy of the world'.

The CSIR has developed a portfolio of Streptokinase technology, a vital, life-saving injectable protein cardiovascular drug while another technology, ‘Ksheer-Scanner' can detect adulteration of milk done by the use of urea, salt, detergent, liquid soap, boric acid.

In the high-end technology field, the CSIR has touched space programmes, besides having contributed significantly to the light combat aircraft, Tejas. It has installed Drishti systems at IGI Airport in Delhi and five other major airports for providing information to pilots on visibility for safe landing and take-off operations.

And, how can one forget the CSIR's menthol mint success story, wherein India became a global leader in menthol mint production! These are just a few among the many scientific gifts to the nation.

Set up soon after the country gained independence, the CSIR, with around 38 laboratories working in diverse fields, has come a long way. But a lot more has to be done to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of the country's growing population and their needs.

This was what Prime Minister Modi also queried from CSIR scientists — if they could take up new challenges, including the search for a novel, long-life mobile phone battery; ways to help sportspersons improve their performance; vegetable seeds that could be exported to the Gulf countries; solar-tree like gadgets to increase the efficiency of converting solar energy into electricity. He also emphasised on need for new (diagnostic) kits for health workers to detect outbreaks early enough to stop them from spreading. On behalf of the country, he also wanted the CSIR scientists to contribute to the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan by developing new affordable technologies for waste management.

However, needless to say, this is possible only if our scientists are given a conducive environment backed with freedom to work, and enough funds. Each laboratory is unique in its own way; so the performance of scientists can't be judged by one parameter.

Moreover, there's need to seriously look into the issue of extension of age of scientists from 60 at present to 65, to retain the rich, talented and experienced mind. Checks and balances could be introduced to prevent allegations of favouritism. Shortage of staff and fund is a problem in every laboratory, while gender balance is acutely missing. Fresh recruitment is almost frozen. Coordination is missing within the laboratories and also among them. Duplication of research is another major issue. So is the cut in the number of fellowships being offered. It's also time to look into ways to provide end-to-end solutions to industry, so that it readily picks up the technology for commercial production. Presently, this is not happening, because of which industry prefers to look abroad for its specialised needs.

Speaking at the Indian Science Congress in Mysore earlier this year, Prime Minister Modi gave some indication of the Government’s desire to boost research and development. e said, “We will try to increase the level of resources for science, and deploy them in accordance with our strategic priorities. In a world of resource constraints and competing claims, we have to be smart in defining our priorities.” However, words need to be reflected in action. The issues besieging the scientific community need to be sorted out, red-tape cut, sufficient fund made available so that Government's goal of ‘Target Nobel Prize' is achieved.

(The writer is special correspondent, The Pioneer)

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