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Universities must be freed from excessive regulations: PM of India

Mumbai: The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, has called for efforts to ensure that science, technology and innovation reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person. He said that for a prosperous future for India, we need to put science, technology and innovation at the top of national priorities. In his address to the 102nd Indian Science Congress in Mumbai today, the Prime Minister said more resilient agriculture, appropriate and affordable technologies for rural areas, improving healthcare, making clean technology affordable, and making India a leading manufacturing nation and a hub for knowledge and technology-intensive industries, were some of the key objectives before Indian scientists. The Prime Minister said a nation`s progress and its human development are linked to science and technology. He added that China`s emergence as the second biggest global economy is in parallel to its rise to the second place in science and technology activities. The Prime Minister said, that a discussion on science and human development, cannot be divorced from the questions of political decisions; social choices; and of equity, ethics and access. He said human development has been the larger purpose and the driving force of India`s scientific pursuits, and science has helped shape modern India. The Prime Minister appreciated Indian scientists for rising to the occasion “whenever the world shut its door on us.” He said that when the world sought our collaboration, they reached out with the openness that is inherent in our society. He also lauded Indian scientists for putting Mangalyaan in the Mars orbit in the first attempt, and saving thousands of lives through their accurate prediction of Cyclone Hudhud. The Prime Minister said that when he speaks of ease of doing business in India, he also wants to pay equal attention to the ease of doing research and development in India. He said funding proposals must not take too long to clear, and scientific departments must have flexibility of funding decisions based on the uncertainties inherent in research activities. He also called for clear regulatory policies for research and development in areas like biotechnology, nanoscience, agriculture and clinical research. The Prime Minister said each government department should have an officer focusing on science and technology relating to its area of work; and, allocate a percentage of its budget for such activities. “We have to place the university system at the cutting edge of the research and development activities in the country,” he added. He said universities must be freed from the clutches of excessive regulation and cumbersome procedures. The Prime Minister called upon Indian industry to step up investments in science and technology in its own interest. He said India`s own pharmaceutical industry has carved out a place for itself in the world, because it invests significantly in research. He welcomed the initiatives of Department of Science and Technology for involving thousands of children and youth in science and technology. The Prime Minister said India must “restore the pride and prestige of science and scientists in our nation; revive the romance for science in society; rekindle the love for it in our children; and, encourage our scientists - to dream, imagine and explore.” The Prime Minister began his address by paying homage to eminent scientist Vasant Gowarikar, who passed away recently. Text of Modi’s address at the 102nd Indian Science Congress: मैं अपनी बात शुरू करने से पहले, सबसे पहले श्री वसंत गोवारिकर जो हमारे देश के गणमान्य वैज्ञानिक थे और आज ही हमारे बीच नहीं रहे। मैं इसी धरती की संतान और भारत को विज्ञान जगत में आगे बढ़ाने में जिन्होंने बहुत अहम भूमिका निभाई थी ऐसे श्रीमान वसंत गोवारिकर जो को हृदय अंतःकरण पूर्वक श्रृद्धांजलि देता हूं। Ladies and Gentlemen, It is a great honour to participate in the Indian Science Congress. I thank University of Mumbai for hosting this Congress. I had the opportunity to participate in the Congress as Chief Minister of Gujarat. I am delighted to return here after ten years. I greatly admire the rich history of this hundred-year old institution. I feel humbled by the work that scientists do. And, I find science and technology an invaluable ally in governance and development. Human civilization has advanced because of the basic human spirit of enquiry and quest for understanding our universe and world. It is a search driven by the belief in what our Vedas described as, Satye Sarvam Pratisthanam – Everything is established in Truth. Science may be the product of human brain. But, it is also driven by the compassion of human heart – the desire to make human life better. We have here with us Nobel Laureates, whose work in science has given new hope against dreaded diseases. We also have one whose own understanding of social science gave the poorest a life of hope, opportunity and dignity. 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. In more recent times, China`s emergence as the second biggest global economy is in parallel to its rise to the second place in science and technology activities. 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. Human development has been the larger purpose and the driving force of Indian scientific pursuits. And, science has helped shape modern India. At the dawn of freedom, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru placed science and technology at the heart of national development. Our scientists launched pioneering research and built outstanding institutions with modest resources that continue to serve us well. Since then, our scientists have placed us at the forefront of the world in many areas. Whenever the world shut its door on us, our scientists responded with the zeal of a national mission. When the world sought our collaboration, they reached out with the openness that is inherent in our society. They have alleviated some of our most acute and pressing challenges of human development. They helped us overcome dependence on others for such basic needs as food. They have secured our borders; supported industrial progress; and, given our people a life of opportunities and dignity. Our scientists put Mangalyaan in the Mars orbit in the first attempt - I must congratulate Radhakrishnan`s team - and their accurate prediction of Cyclone Hudhud saved thousands of lives; our nuclear scientists work for our energy security, and they have also placed India at the Asian forefront in cancer research and treatment. Our achievements give us pride, but they do not blind us to the enormous challenges that we face in 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 realize 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. But, our own achievements have shown that very often a need and vision and passion are more important than resource for success. And, it is how we use resources that will determine how effective we are in making science and technology work for us. Our development challenges will naturally shape our strategic priorities in science and technology. Even as we focus on some key areas, we should not confine research and development to a few pre-determined paths. And, it is as important to focus on basic research as on research and development and innovation. We should also recognize that science is universal, but technology can be local. If we incorporate traditional and local knowledge, systems and technologies, we may develop more appropriate, effective, affordable and sustainable solutions that contribute immensely to human development and progress. As the major source of science and technology efforts in the country, 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. Funding proposals must not take too long to clear; meeting application requirement should not become more complex than research; approval process should not become a deterrent for international conference; and, our scientific departments must have flexibility of funding decisions based on the uncertainties inherent in research activities. We want our scientists and researchers to explore the mysteries of science, not of government procedures. We want them to consider publications, not government approvals, to be the epitome of their success. We must also have clear regulatory policies for research and development in areas like biotechnology, Nano-Science, agriculture and clinical research. We should ensure that our strong intellectual property regime continues to work effectively and provides the right balance between private incentives and social good. Further, not just scientific departments, but every other department in the Government should see how to apply science and technology and promote research to improve their work. Each should have an officer focusing on science and technology relating to its area of work; and, allocate a percentage of its budget for such activities. We have begun this experience with Space technology. Investments in science and technology activities should also become part of the expenditure on corporate social responsibility – to be funded directly or through an autonomous fund. We also need to foster a strong culture of collaboration between institutions and across disciplines to take advantage of developments, innovations and expertise in diverse areas. My impression is that this is far from the ideal in India I will ask our ministries to make collaborations a critical requirement for their institutions and for supporting funding requests for research. We have to place the university system at the cutting edge of the research and development activities in the country. Our investments in science and technology are far too concentrated in the agencies of the Central Government and must become more broad-based. Our universities must be freed from the clutches of excessive regulation and cumbersome procedures. They must have a higher degree of academic freedom and autonomy; and, there should be as much emphasis on research as on teaching. In turn, the universities must also subscribe to the highest academic and research standards and accountability. This includes thorough peer review. We have to rapidly expand our higher education sector; yet, our existing institutions face shortage of faculty. We have a large pool of outstanding scientists and engineers working in central institutions and agencies. I want them to spend some time each year, teaching and guiding Ph.D students at a university. Our industry must also step up investments in science and technology in its own interest. India`s own pharmaceutical industry has carved out a place for itself in the world, because it invests significantly in research. Indeed, our long term global competitiveness will depend not on replicating what others have done, but through a process of sustained development and innovation. There is a growing trend of international collaboration in research and development, not just among business enterprises, but equally among researchers and scholars at universities and laboratories. We should take full advantage of this. For this reason, I have placed science and technology at the forefront of our diplomatic engagement. As I have travelled abroad, I have personally sought out scientists to explore collaborations in areas like clean energy, agriculture, biotechnology, medicine and healthcare. We have built excellent partnerships with all leading nations to address the grand challenges of the world today. I have also offered our expertise to our neighbours and other developing countries. I have often spoken of skill development for our youth. Our future will be secure and our global leadership possible, if we also prepare the next generation of world class scientists, technologists and innovators. School education in science and mathematics should become more creative and stimulating. Let us also use Internet to bring the best of our scientists in direct contact with our children and our youth. Digital connectivity should become as much a basic right as access to school. I welcome the initiatives of Department of Science and Technology for involving thousands of children and youth in science and technology. It is not surprising that our young minds are winning international competitions and 12 of them have minor comets named after them! Our children should seek role model in scientists as much as in sportsmen. Their parents should feel as much pride in their children seeking a future in science as in business or civil service. For this, we need to communicate the power and possibilities of science better. Let us, for example, make science and technology the theme of Republic Day parade in the near future. We need to celebrate our scientific achievements as much as we rejoice in our success in other areas. We should give young participants and winners in science fairs maximum public recognition and sustained support of the government. I would personally love to meet the best of our young scientists. In conclusion, let me say for a safe, sustainable, prosperous future for India; or global leadership in a knowledge and technology intensive world, we need to put science, technology and innovation at the top of national priorities. I am confident that we can do it. We in India are the inheritors of a thriving tradition of Indian science and technology since ancient times. Mathematics and medicine; metallurgy and mining; calculus and textiles; architecture and astronomy - the contribution the Indian civilization to human knowledge and advancement has been rich and varied. We can draw inspiration and confidence from our numerous successes over the past six decades in difficult circumstances; the strength of our many institutions; and, India`s rich talent in science, reflected in the five distinguished Indian scientists, whom we have just honoured. Above all, we must restore the pride and prestige of science and scientists in our nation; revive the romance for science in society; rekindle the love for it in our children; and, encourage our scientists - to dream, imagine and explore. You will have no better supporter than me. In turn, I seek your help in transforming India.

About Sanjay Trivedi

Sanjay Trivedi is honorary editor of Asia Times. He is senior Indian Journalist having vast experience of 25 years. He worked in Janmabhoomi, Vyapar, Divya Bhaskar etc. newspapers and TV9 Channel as well as www.news4education.com. He also served as Media Officer in Gujarat Technological University.

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