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Science, the fulcrum for social and economic change in India

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The 2018 Dr Seng Tee Lee Public Policy Lecture will be delivered by Professor K Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.

Hosted by Professor Stephen Toope, Vice Chancellor, University of Cambridge

Science is a beautiful and rewarding pursuit. The understanding of our universe, which it continually brings, can hold us in thrall, constantly liberating us from our past ignorance while showing new frontiers for exploration. From this understanding and through technology, science is also the fulcrum on which the strong crowbar of national missions which aim to lift India economically and socially can rest. Such a role for science is not only necessary for India but also for the sustainability of our planet, for with its large young population, the success of India is vital to the success of the world. Science as a fulcrum will allow reasonable and affordable investment to lift huge loads, where otherwise even larger investments can be ineffective.

This fulcrum must be strong and correctly placed. Till recently, this fulcrum was not strong enough and was poorly positioned. Both situations are speedily changing.

Strengthening science in India requires three simultaneous efforts: (1) strengthening our best institutions, invigorating the university research system and expanding the footprint of science by creating new institutions of quality; (2) opening the minds of our best research centres so that we challenge ourselves much more; and (3) increasing the resources for science and clearing bottlenecks in delivery of these resources. Increased support from the Government is necessary, but substantially more must come from industry and philanthropy.

Positioning science in India also requires three simultaneous efforts. Firstly, our research laboratories – often accused of being a short-walk from India – must inspire and be inspired by our messy surroundings. In other words, with doors wide open and working with the best internationally, we must also have an independent intellectual view and standing, and not only be an efficient interpreter of the global best in science.

Secondly, while India has been an active participant in many global science missions, it is now time for us to lead in the development of new missions, with international partners.

Thirdly, science in India must position itself to make major national missions in energy, environment, electric mobility, health, agriculture etc successful and cost-effective. Through development of context- appropriate technology, science in India can be the agent of social and economic transformation.

Over the past two years, a ‘Group of Science Secretaries’ met regularly to both formulate and initiate implementation of major steps in the above directions. This year, a new Principal Scientific Adviser and the Prime Minster’s Science Technology and Innovation Council were appointed.

India aims to make science central to its development, while ensuring that support for science as a beautiful and intellectually rewarding pursuit is also enhanced. India was one of the few post-colonial countries to invest substantially in science. Our ambition now is to see the impact of current changes in science policy by 2022, seventy-five years after independence,

This talk is part of the Centre for Science and Policy Lectures & Seminars series.

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