Insufficient funds

While the global march was the immediate trigger for the demonstrations, members of the scientific community have been raising concerns about the lack of financial support from the government for a few decades. “Science cannot be compared to business,” said S Mahadevan, professor of molecular reproduction, development & genetics at IISc, Bangalore. “One cannot invest in research and expect immediate results. It is a creative activity, and it may take many years before research yields any practical value.”

The situation has become more dire now, said researchers. In June, the country’s largest research and development organisation, which runs 37 laboratories, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, declared a financial emergency. Its director general Girish Sahni told the Indo-Asian News Service that they had hardly enough funds to support new research projects.

“In most other countries, 2.5%-3.5% of the gross domestic product is allocated for scientific research in the budget,” said Soumitro Banerjee, professor at the department of physical sciences, IISER Kolkata. “In India, it is only around 0.85% of the GDP. This is far smaller than anything needed to make any kind of breakthrough in science.”

Unscientific temper

While budgetary issues have been a long-standing problem, scientists feel that over the past few years, scientific studies in India are being “eclipsed by a rising wave of unscientific beliefs and religious bigotry.”

The appeal by scientists issued ahead of the India march said:

“While we can justly be inspired by the great achievements in science and technology in ancient India, we see that non-scientific ideas lacking in evidence are being propagated as science by persons in high positions, fuelling a confrontational chauvinism in lieu of true patriotism that we cherish. Promoting scientific bent of mind can certainly help improve the social health of our country where incidents of witch hunting, honour killing and mob lynching are reported regularly.”

— India March for Science

In national and international conferences, research papers were being presented without any proper scientific backing, said Rajini of Breakthrough Science Society. Last year, Nobel laureate and structural biologist Venkatraman Ramakrishnan told The Times of India that the annual Indian Science Congress was a circus, where very little science was discussed. Pointing out an incident in the 2015 edition of the Congress in Mumbai, where a participant had controversially claimed that planes were invented during the Vedic period and could even fly between planets, Ramakrishnan said that he would never attend another such conference again.

The fear that pseudoscience is gaining prominence and replacing rigorous scientific research in the minds of the people is evident among scientists. “The scientific community is very often cut off from society,” said UK Anandavardhanan of the department of mathematics at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. “This might not necessarily be a bad thing if our leaders took the initiative to speak about the importance of scientific research to the people. But this has not been happening. I am personally participating in this march because this is one way for the scientific community to connect with the wider public.”

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