Scientific Temper and Rational Planning
(1) Opening — Science and the people.
(2) Body — Population explosion.
— Scientific developments.
— Technological innovations and agriculture.
— Opening up of the economy and liberalization.
— Prospects of product of Indian technology.
— Faith in self-reliance.
— The list of irrationalities
(3) Closing — Irrationality has always been a human failing and we must be ever vigilant to combat it for the good of society.
“Realizing these limitations of reason and scientific method, we have still to hold on to them with all our strength, for without that firm basis and background we can, have no grip on any kind of truth or reality”.
These are a large number of people in our society who have formally studied or are studying science, clearly driven by job expectations. This has caused the retreat of traditional values and a degree of modernization and homogenization of society. It is now certainly far less segregated along lines of caste, language or religion. Those who are engaged in industry, business and commerce have no time to determine what identity their counterparts belong to. This is certainly a major achievement in free India.
However, if one looks at some of our fundamental problems, there is much cause for dismay and disappointment. Take the question of population. Even 70 years ago, at the time of Independence, the Indian subcontinent was already crowded. Today's India is adding in population in terms an Australia every year. But we are not adding to our resource base in the same proportion.
Another irrationality is the lack of access to safe drinking water and better hygene for a large majority of our population, while a small segment is busy with star TV, CNN, MTV and so on.
After independence a substantial and comprehensive base of science and technology has been created and several scientists and technologists trained. Among the laboratories of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, there have been some very good examples of integration with application. To mention only two : the Central Leather Research Institute has done well to help export leather goods; the National Chemical Laboratory too has a good record of working with industry.
The other laboratories, in spite of high quality manpower and facilities, have not yet been able to upgrade industry or provide new designs and processes. A recent move to make them earn fifty percent of their operating cost outside of the government funds, may force them to integrate with industry.
Agriculture has seen a really successful tie-up between the laboratories and the farms. We must continue their association as agriculture will now face another revolution based on biotechnological innovations. It is in atomic energy and space sciences, where the applications have been tightly knit with laboratory work, that progress has been really very impressive. Indian scientists and technologist expected that links between the laboratories and application areas would be strengthened, and that we would soon see a strong, self-reliant industrial and agricultural development.
Growth of IT industry in India requires a large number of knowledgeable and skilled human resources. A number of professional colleges all over India are producing the required workforce and so there is no dearth of skilled employees to work in IT industry and BPOs. They are globally at par with the best human resources available and are available at very reasonable salaries.
On the other hand, we will only be manufacturing to designs evolved in one of the advanced countries. The design capability we have built up is in danger of wilting. The exceptions would be where the MNCs find it profitable to integrate Indian design effort into their mainline work. This is likely to be limited.
What are the prospects of product of Indian technology breaking into the export market ? Software export has been growing well and there is considerable scope for expansion. As a general rule, the scale of manufacture has been small. Even our larger activities would be mini or micro in international comparison. Many of these industries have been too small to support independent design effort, let alone research and development. There is a real danger to the survival of many of these industries in the face of competition from overseas giants who can indulge in price cutting and dumping with takeovers, dismantling of any line of manufacture could easily happen in the guise of rationalisation.
Why is it important for India to continue its faith in self-reliance ? Many people would point out that many economics such as those of South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and others have done well in growing as part of international division of labour. Let us recall that Indian with a population of 800 million and China with over one billion are the two potentially largest economies. They will grow for the next several decades. They will therefore, be large markets for both capital goods and consumer articles.
India will continue to build power stations, extended electricity supplies, add to its fleet of trucks, modernize the railway system, build petroleum refineries, and so on. Equally, the consumer demands for automobiles, two wheelers, TV sets and so forth will also continue. It is important, therefore, that we not only manufacture these articles in the country but also improve them with newer designs based on research and development undertaken in the country.
There is a need to integrate ourselves into the global economy at our own pace as equal partners but not be stamped into joining as second class citizen.
Whenever one defends the policy of the opening up of our economy the case is on the basis of bringing in the latest technology required to rapidly build up the nation. Quite often we end up getting technology, for soft drinks or fast food. Verghese Kurien posed the question “Why do we need to import the technology for potato chips ?” A news item talks about the entry to India of the American fast food chain, Mc Donalds. The entry is justified on the ground that it would attract overseas tourists.
The list of irrationalities does not end here. At another level, there is the irrationality of the Indian Science Congress instituting an award for astrology. Another irrationality staring us in the face is the Dunkel Draft that is being negotiated by the GATT. Western Pharmaceutical companies have complained in the past about India's patent laws. Even if, these laws did not suit them, the country has been able to supply life-saving drugs at affordable prices. Under the new dispensation, this may not be so.
Even more ominous are the provisions relating to intellectual property rights as they apply to agriculture. According to noted agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, free flow of knowledge across national frontiers helped the growth of agriculture and animal husbandry worldwide. The provisions. of the Dunkel Draft favour Europe and North America and mitigate against the developing countries. Even in the field of computer software, the Dunkel provisions mitigate against the interest of countries such as India. India should mobilise the support of other developing countries and safeguard the interests of the poor majority of the world.
Irrationality do persist in our society. In the past India nurtured the concept of ‘simple living and high thinking’. We can have a sustainable and enjoyable life-style that emphasizes cultural and moral values, with less dependence on material goods and services. But first, we must eliminate poverty, human drudgery, and deprivation and provide the basic nectar for a decent life to our large population. In this endeavour, science, technology, and rational thinking have to play a seminal role. Irrationality has always been a human failing and we must be ever vigilant to combat it for the good of society. Scientists and technologists have a crucial role to play in this mission.