‘Media focused on wrong bits about Science Congress’

Neelu Vyas

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Just a fortnight after the 103rd Science Congress concluded in Karantaka, Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan has slammed the media for making headlines out of a non-issue.

While speaking to Rajya Sabha TV, the minister said that Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrshishnan’s comment that Science Congress had been reduced to a circus was uncalled for. He also criticised the media for giving undue importance to the scientist’s comment which overshadowed the importance of the event.

Harsh Vardhan categorically denied the allegation that the NDA government was trying to mix science with mythology in an attempt to saffronise the world of science. His clarification on the issue was that the government was trying to give a positive push to science with a clear vision.

The minister also spoke about how he and the entire ministry continues to get inspired from the RSS affiliate Vigyan Bharti. But he vehemently denied any intervention from the organisation at the policy level.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Why is an event like the Indian Science Congress being trivialised?

Unfortunately, media makes a headline out of a non-issue. One person’s statement was given importance while 15,000 other scientists who were present there were ignored.

Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan said that the Science Congress is a circus. What do you have to say about that?

Science is not something you can paint with a brush. One person’s comment overshadowed the importance of the work done by so many scientists. That was unfortunate.

There is a feeling that the NDA government is trying to saffronise Science?

No party decides the agenda of the Science Congress. Even I as a minister can’t decide what presentations will be made. I blame the media for the mess. Media erred last year as well. In the 102nd Science Congress my remarks on Pythagoras theorem got space in the media. Media should not criticise just for the sake of criticising.

There is a feeling that RSS is driving the Science policy of the country. At the Dehardun Declaration, RSS affiliate Vigyan Bharti members were present which was not needed?

I can call this highly unfortunate if media looks at this in that manner. Let me be very clear that I have visited almost 80% of science laboratories in the country. We are trying to put science on a stable platform & give it a positive push. You can ask all the scientists if RSS intervenes in policy making. It’s for sure that we drive our inspiration from RSS and a body like Vigyan Bharti has hundreds of competent scientists who give their views but that does not mean that they are formulating our science policy. This is utter rubbish. I am sorry to use this word but this is utter rubbish. Government is on a sound footing with clear vision about what it has to do.

How are you linking all the projects with the various flagship programmes like Start-Up India, Digital India etc?

More than 500 start-up projects have been supported by the government so far. The department is working with a certain goal for the coming years. Definite monitoring & accountability mechanism is in place. There’s a positive note from PM to strengthen science & technology.

You have choked the funds of your own civilian labs. Does that not contradict the spirit of the flagship programmes?

I don’t believe there is any choking in funds of CSIR. These are misplaced apprehensions.

There are also reports that a number of senior and junior research fellowships are declining?

On the contrary, honourarium & fellowship amounts have improved by 50%. Scientists from different streams are all encouraged to come back to India. PM Modi has mammoth respect for professional acumen, scientists & researchers.

What do you have to say about the 15 days of odd-even formula implemented by CM Kejriwal in Delhi?

Most of the reports do not talk of air quality so what’s the end result of an initiative like that? Has there been a decline in pollution? Well , reports are still awaited. If I would have been in his place, I would have motivated the people more, brought consensus and then would have moved forward with an initiative like that. According to me, it was highly mismanaged.

(You can watch the entire interview on the programme To The Point at Wednesday 10 pm and Thursday 10.30 am, only on Rajya Sabha TV)