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Science Congress takes a hit: sign of times?

DH News Service, Bengaluru, Dec 23 2017, 0:09 IST

The decision to indefinitely postpone the 105th edition of the Indian Science Congress (ISC) that was scheduled to take place from January 3 to 7 at Hyderabad's Osmania University is unfortunate and a matter of concern. This is the first time in over a century that the ISC is being put off. Osmania University authorities have blamed "disturbances on campus and other reasons" for their inability to host the conference. Osmania University has been roiled by unrest ever since the suicide of a Dalit student last year. University authorities may have apprehended that protests and unrest would mar the event, especially its inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The venue for the ISC is usually decided a year in advance. It is unfortunate that Osmania's administration did not alert the government early enough of its inability to host the event. Had it done so, another venue could have been selected and the event would have gone on as scheduled. The eleventh-hour postponement of the ISC lays bare the lax and irresponsible attitude of the university and the ministry concerned. Understandably, the ISC's indefinite postponement has evoked disappointment. The science congress has provided a forum for scientists to engage with each other. More importantly, it provided students an opportunity to interact with some of the finest scientists in India and from around the world and draw inspiration from their work. The ISC provided the public an opportunity to access and understand complex scientific research.

The ISC's postponement is the latest in a string of setbacks that the science congress, a premier event from before Independence, has suffered over the last few years. The 2015 and 2016 congresses were turned into 'melas', as one angry scientist put it, where people with little scientific achievement or interest peddled mythology, instead, as science. Every prime minister, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru, has prioritised science as the path to the country's modernisation and advancement. Sadly, while Modi lauds headline-making technological achievement, his government has accorded much less importance to basic science research. He has allowed, even encouraged, pseudo-science to become part of a misleading discourse that has acquired a life of its own in the past three years. Claims of ancient India's expertise in plastic surgery, 40-engined aircraft and the like have opened India to ridicule.

Inaugurating the ISC has been the first public event in the annual calendar of every Indian prime minister. It sent out a signal to the people that science is a priority in this country. The uncertainty over this year's ISC lays bare the clouded future that science faces under this government.

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