Science it seems has finally come of age in India as hugely qualified and politically heavyweight ministers have been appointed for key portfolios like science, environment and education in the new government.
Prithviraj Chavan (63), a mechanical engineer from University of California, Berkeley, who spent his early years making electronic components for listening in on enemy submarines in America, was appointed as the new Science Minister. A heavyweight politician from Western India who on assuming office said, "My first love is science and technology." Chavan will certainly have a heavy workload as he now has to handle as many as five different ministries.
Earlier, when the world's largest democracy, which voted through a robust gift of Indian science -- the Electronic Voting Machine -- gave an economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh another five year term in office, among his many poll promises was, "We will carry out a massive renewal of science and technology infrastructure." Speaking on the issue, a soft-spoken Chavan said, "Funds will not be short." Chavan feels his second hat as minister in the PMO will help him get 'new and big ideas' across to Singh himself. Chavan for the time becomes a single point person for almost all Indian scientific departments as he is also a member of the secretive cash rich Atomic Energy Commission; and the Space Commission -- the highest policy making bodies for these strategic departments.
Widely regarded as one of the 'best science minister India ever had', lawyer-turned-politician, Kapil Sibal (61), has now been appointed the new Minister for Education with a Cabinet rank, a huge elevation in his profile as the top man at the Human Resources Development Ministry. This is a much coveted portfolio since Singh's government has gone in for a massive expansion of higher education. Speaking about his responsibilities, Sibal said, "He hoped for a synergy in science and education like never before." Dubbing it a 'very welcome confluence' M Vijayan, a biophysicist and president of the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi, said, "Barriers and vertical silos need to be broken if Indian science has to flourish especially in universities." He also dubbed Sibal's term as science minister as the time when 'science did extra ordinarily well'.
With the specter of climate change looming large and important international negotiations on the horizon, an articulate mechanical engineer, Jairam Ramesh (55) who has studied at Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston and completed a MS from Carnegie Melon University in Program Management was appointed as the new environment and forests minister. Making the country's position on climate change amply clear, he immediately said, "India cannot take on any binding emissions reduction targets." He also feels that a country which accounts for 16 per cent of the world's population and accounts for a mere five per cent of the emissions, could not be expected to stop its rapid economic growth and development. Incidentally, Ramesh, a power minister in the last administration, had emphasised that clean coal, hydel and nuclear will be the mainstay for energising India.
The Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and a solid-state chemist, Professor CNR Rao, lauded these appointments saying, "This constellation (of ministers) is the best combination I have ever seen." Rao had recently emphasised that 'the mood is so positive (that now) we the professional scientists should not let them down'.
Also, applauding the Prime Minister's commitment for reposing faith in Indian science through these highly skilled new appointees, Thirumalachari Ramasami, a chemist and Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi, said, "This was a moment of great expectation." His immediate wishlist submitted to the government includes a quick tripling of the science base in India. "We now have a dream team," feels technocrat Samir K Brahmachari, who is a structural biologist and Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi who adds "now we have no choice but to deliver".