Our civilisation was built on the foundations of a knowledge-based society. But for centuries such knowledge remained the preserve of a few. Democratic India has widened the base of this knowledge pyramid and raised its apex. The challenge before us is to ensure that both processes continue. And that the light of modern education touches all, and at the same time the pursuit of excellence is encouraged and cherished.
Science education is a fundamental requirement for any modern nation to meet the challenges and avail of the opportunities of our modern scientific and technologic age. Our government has placed the highest emphasis on making a career in science attractive to our young people.
Our government takes pride in the fact that in the past four years we have crossed many new milestones in the development of science teaching and research in our country. Four years ago, there was only one Indian Institute of Science, which was a hundred-year-old institution. Today, we can say with pride that we have launched five new institutions dedicated to teaching and research in sciences. This marks a historic turning point for Indian science. I had promised and I stand by the promise, that we will double the investment in science to 2 per cent of national income from the current 1 per cent.
I do recognise that India lags behind not just developed western nations, but also the newly industrialising economies of Asia. While our government is doing its bit to ensure quantitative development, the leadership for qualitative development must come from you.
It is teachers and researchers who inspire new generations. The government can at best ease the supply side constraints on teaching and research. The demand side stimulus must come from institutions of excellence and from industry. Our universities must do more to foster a research environment. We need strengthening of institutional leadership in universities and research institutions. We need a new generation of role models and leaders.
The best science is done by young people. Our institutions, therefore, must be receptive to the needs of young people. They must promote younger talent and allow youth to lead. Seniority and age may be relevant in bureaucratic systems, but scientific institutions must be led by creative intellectual leaders, irrespective of their age.
Indian industry too must invest more in research and development and boost the demand for science and technology graduates and researchers. Look at the role played by public investment in nuclear energy, space and defence-related industry in creating the demand for science and technology graduates. We need a new wave of such investment from the private sector so that our young people will be encouraged increasingly to seek a career in science.
In conclusion, let me say once again say that I am delighted that this session of the Congress is being held in Shillong. Our government has developed and implemented special packages for supporting science education and research in colleges and universities in the North Eastern Region. A total of 58 colleges in the region have been accorded a special package of Rs 50 lakh for strengthening their laboratory infrastructure. About 240 fellowships exclusive to the region for promotion of research for various categories have been instituted. A special package for biotechnology-related research has been launched. Science-society linkages and activities have been launched under the National Mission on Bamboo Applications. I sincerely hope this special session in the Indian Science Congress on S&T issues for the North Eastern Region will come forward with brand new ideas for the promotion of science in this region.
Many years ago, Sir Winston Churchill had said that the “empires of the future will be the empires of the mind”. It is on the foundation of investment in science and technology that modern societies are going to move forward. We have a proud record in this, but not an adequate one. We have to do much more to make ours a knowledge-based society. Our government has made investment in education and skill-building a corner stone of our development process.
I urge each one of you to contribute to this gigantic national effort to build a truly knowledge-based society and a science-based economy in this ancient land of Bharat.
(Excerpts from the address of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Indian Science Congress in Shillong on January 3)