India not 3rd largest scientific, technical force, says expert

New Delhi, July 19 (IANS) Challenging claims of India being the world’s third largest stock-house of technicians and scientists, an expert has urged on the need for incorporating science and technology while drafting policies.

“If some underprivileged person achieves his aspiration by making it to the top position in science and technology, then it is no credit to India’s long or short term policy,” V. Siddhartha, an eminent policy matter expert, told IANS here on the sidelines of a lecture.

Several global reports have said that India is set to become the world’s third largest stock-house of scientists and technicians.

India needs to incorporate science and technology in policy making and make it public centric, Siddhartha said at a lecture held by think-tank Society for Policy Studies (SPS) on Monday evening.

The lecture “Harnessing S&T: The Political-Economies of Technology and the Science in India’s Policy making”, was part of the “Changing Asia” series. It was hosted by C. Uday Bhaskar, Director, Society for Policy Studies.

“One factoid that gets repeated is that India has the third largest number of the world’s scientific and technical personnel. This is a wholly incorrect. The actual rank on this account is in the teens,” Siddhartha said.

A former Principal Scientific Advisor to the Union government and Secretary of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, Siddhartha pointed out that more new S&T institutions have emerged in the private sector but they still lack qualified scientists and engineers.

“Of all the post-colonial countries — bar none — India has the largest and densest array of scientific and technological institutions. It is for us to use this asset for purposes we can decide, and in ways that we can fashion; liberties that other post-colonial countries cannot — and mostly dare not — contemplate, much less take,” he said.

“About 34 percent of doctors in India are not qualified, but they are treating patients,” he said citing a report.

Siddhartha pointed out low annual expenditure on research and development for science and technology, that includes strategic mission agencies of atomic energy, space, and defence research, as a setback.

“While the total has never exceeded 0.9 percent of GDP in the last quarter century, the spend has been increasing monotonically — so the availability of money, per se, has not been a significant constraint on the nation’s conduct of scientific and technological activities,” Siddhartha said.

“How does one create off-farm jobs for several tens of millions of youths who are unskilled and who are coming off fragmenting farms, particularly in the BIMARU states? The answer has to be a policy-goal in itself,” he said.

The answer to that, he claims, comes in form of a Karnataka pilot scheme that tries to communicate essential farming information through language-independent, custom-evolved and field tested applications. He credits such success models to the growth in mobile phone usage which had exploded from below 37 million in 2001 to over one billion in 2015.

“This had helped breaking language barriers, with younger people in even non-Hindi speaking states to know, beside their mother tongue, some Bollywood Hindi,” he added.

Siddhartha called for need to learn from other Asian countries, in terms of “market protection” and creation of “productive work places” as urgent goal for public policy.

The expert also pointed out the threats of “commodification” of higher education, quoting the HRD Minister’s call that “IITs should be self-financed by 2030”.

He argued that if this is the case, then for sure the “Of The Middle Class, By The Middle Class — export-oriented IITs will not train young people with those needed skills and knowledge”.



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