Science and Technology in India

Status of S&T administration in India*
Er. K Vijayachandran FIE

India is a multinational state: Unity in diversity is often projected as the hall mark of Indian polity. But in the organization of administrative structures in our country, this is hardly recognized; S&T is no exemption. The British had organized S&T in the country, in a manner suited to their colonial objectives and perspectives. Structures like Survey of India, geological, botanical or zoological surveys of India, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and the like were created on the exigencies of colonial rule. Their organizational basis had little relevance to the realities of Indian polity and the requirements of a self reliant and self-sustaining type of developmental strategy, oriented to local needs and resources.

The three decades of independence had brought in no basic changes in this organizational set up. Even today S&T organizations in the country are all oriented to “Delhi” and the bulk of S&T programs controlled from there. This dichotomy –i.e. S&T being the near monopoly of the Central Government whereas the bulk of economic activities coming under the purview of State Governments, is a major inhibiting factor preventing our S&T developing a genuinely national character. The situation is hardly conducive to developing an S&T culture oriented to local needs and resources. The S&T administration in our country has to come out of its impersonal character and shed its imperial pretensions so as to identify itself with the life and culture of our people.

The decision of Central Government in early seventies to promote State Level S&T committee was an indirect recognition of this basic dichotomy in the S&T setup. But the experience with the working of state level S& T Committees shows that this is no real solution**. Such Committees are hardly any substitute for full fledged state level counterparts for DST, CSIR, ICMR, ICAR and the like which could be affiliated or federated into the central bodies which alone can service S&T on a professional footing and on a continues basis at the state level.

The absence of such state level structures has led to the deterioration in the quality of state level engineering departments, technical and scientific education and S&T capabilities in general. These apart, no worthwhile studies have taken place toward the identification and exploitation of the natural resources at the state level. Even today, there exists no comprehensive compilation of our flora and fauna, no systematic studies and documentation on our climate, soil, water or mineral resources have been undertaken. In the recent past a few centers of excellence were created at the state level. But these institutions as well as other technical institutions, research centers, universities and engineering departments in the state have to evolve a well coordinated pattern of functioning, so that they serve the developmental needs of our people. Organizational structures and administrative mechanisms towards this have to be evolved and established. This can be achieved only through protracted debates among our professionals, their organizations, associations and S&T institutions in the state. It is obvious that the problems of S&T in Kerala are not peculiar to the state alone and requires possibly an all India approach. It is necessary to evolve alternative perspectives at the national level.

It will be interesting to study the organization of science and technology in the Soviet Union which is a federation of republics of several nationalities. The academy of science of the U.S.S.R. had brought out a publication to mark the golden jubilee of the formation of the Soviet Union. The organization of science in U.S.S.R. may very well be illustrated through a few quotations from this book. The Vice President of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Science had written: “Within the life time of a single generation, the people of some republics underwent a transition from a feudal society based on archaic agricultural systems to a socialist economy with a highly developed industry and mechanized agriculture. Peoples that did not even have a written language before the October revolution now can boast of their own trained specialists. The children and grand children of peasants and nomads are designing and operating computers and other sophisticated equipments.”

Boriservich, President of the Academy of Sciences of Belorussian republic in his report on science in Byelorussia had stated: “The republic’s council of ministers have set clearly defined tasks before the researchers working in the field of technical sciences to be completed during the current five-year period. To search for ways of improving automobiles, machine tools, agricultural machines, manufactured by the republic’s industry, such as would provide at least 50 per cent increase in their overhaul period; to construct and introduce into Belorussian production practice’ new apparatus for the drying and heat treatment of materials.”

Academician Vekua, president of the Academy of sciences of Georgian republic had started his report in the following words: “Georgian science has a glorious tradition reaching back to distant past.” His report is flooded with statements on the great achievements of Georgian chemistry, Georgian physics, Georgian mathematics, astronomy, agronomy and what not. Academician Abullayer, in his report on the science of the tiny republic of Azerbaijan talks of the recent developments in Azerbaijan cybernetics, developing of mathematical directional drilling of oil wells for exploiting the rich oil resources of Azerbaijan. Similarly, there are lengthy narrations on the achievements of the Ukrainian science, Lithuanian science, Moldavian science, Latvian science and the science in the Kyrgyzstan: the republic of the Kyrgizians who are one of the most ancient aboriginal people in central Asia.

It is not the intention here to prescribe any particular model for the Science and Technology administration in India. But the above account as brought out by the spokesmen of the academies of sciences of soviet republics brings out the basic characteristics of soviet science and its historical development. These are: (a) scientific research in soviet union is by and large organized as an integral part of the social production, (b) science organization is highly decentralized but at the same time part of a well coordinated centralized system; (c) soviet science is not impersonal in character but is well integrated into the overall sociocultural life of various nationalities.

It is interesting to compare these with our own approach to science and technology and its development. For us science is universal and highly impersonal: to talk about ‘Indian Science’ is almost a taboo–smacks of national parochialism, to talk about the development of Manipuri Physics, Naga Chemistry, Carnatic Cybernetics or Assamese petrology or to suggest the formation of an autonomous Tamil or Kerala academy of sciences will almost amount to treason. We have come to believe that science and technology should be administered, funded and monitored by a strong Central Government.

It has to be emphasized here; be it agriculture, housing, roads, health, civic amenities, power, education or irrigation, each of these sectors have their specific regional and cultural characteristics. Each state is endowed with different types of natural resources and R&D efforts towards the identification and exploitation of these resources can be best undertaken only through State level efforts. Under Indian conditions, administration of Science and Technology has to be highly decentralized not only because of its size and geographical diversity but also because of its cultural diversity.

The C.S.I.R., I.C.M.R., ICAR and other institutions were formed on the basis of the British model, which had nothing to do with Indian reality. It is possible that these organizations could have worked well on a federal principle with their autonomous State-level counterparts functioning under the State Governments. Instead, we see that individual institutions belonging to these central agencies are farmed out to different states on some consideration or other but, mainly for appeasing public opinion or popular sentiments in different states. National laboratories and Research Institutions under these agencies have not succeeded in identifying themselves with the material and cultural life of the people of the region, where they are located..

This defective approach can be seen even in the organization of voluntary professional associations and institutions. It is true that some of these organizations like the Institution of Engineers (India) etc… have their regional or state–level chapters. But, by and large, they do not follow the natural division of the Indian Union into cultural and linguistic groups. The National Science Academy or the Indian Science Congress and other associations of scientists of individual disciplines can perceive of science only as an All India phenomenon. The result is that their overall impact on the life of our people and developmental policies has been minimal if not negligible. That sort of organizational dichotomy has poisoned even the value system among the scientific community. It is not the professional brilliance or professional contributions that make a good scientist, but one’s position in the scientific bureaucracy. An Engineer or Scientist working at the state level institution or university is considered a smaller being compared to his central counterpart. Often, we see central level experts descending on the state level departments and institutions to render expert advice not abased on the strength of their professional standing or competence but just because they happen to be in Delhi, in the services of the Central Government. Is it in anyway different from the colonial value system, in which members of the Royal societies paid their visits to inspect native institutions?

Science and technology institutions or voluntary professional associations in our country look up to Delhi for patronage, finance and facilities. Almost every one of them is directly or indirectly controlled and dictated on, in an ad-hoc manner by the technocrats or bureaucrats sitting in Delhi. One does not know what sort of control, financial, administrative or professional, can be exercised from Delhi over a coconut research station situated in a remote village in Kerala***. If Indian science and Indian research has to be meaningful it should come out of its impersonal character and shed its imperial pretensions. It should belong to where it is really needed and where it is sought after. The future of Indian science and research lies in the breaking up of the present highly centralized authoritarian structures and erecting in its place a truly federal set-up in tune with the spiritual, cultural, democratic and material aspirations of the people.

* Presented at the paper session of Institution of Engineers (India) Cochin Local Centre on October 5th 1981: retyped from the original paper of 01.01.2007

** The writer was the Member Secretary of the Kerala State Committee for Science and Technology in 1980-81 period.

*** In my village there is a Coconut Research Station under the CPCRI founded in the nineteen fifties. Even today it has little contact with the local farming communities nor has it solved any of their problems.