The curious Air India order not to carry live animals for experimental purposes at least had one positive fallout. Speaking to The Indian Express,prominent scientists in prominent positions in government institutions spoke out against the move,pointing out that they had not been kept in the loop on a measure that was bound to affect their research work and adding that it was reflective of the way science was treated in the country.
This candour was refreshing,particularly at a time when crucial issues in India that could benefit from more scientific intervention are getting reduced to an activist vs government rhetoric. From Kudankulam to dams to genetically modified crops,rare is there a scientific voice unless it has been fielded by the government itself.
Most scientists are known to be reticent to talk in public. Some think this is a job they are not equipped to do effectively and others consider it an unnecessary diversion from their primary work.
Unfortunately,even the existing institutional mechanisms in the government to advise and guide the broad scientific policies of the country are non-functional for all practical purposes. One such institution is the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (SAC-PM) headed by Prof C N R Rao and including other celebrated scientists as members. It rarely meets.
One rarely hears from another such institution,the principal scientific advisor to the PM. Neither does a separate department called the Vigyan Prasar meant specifically to communicate scientific issues to the public fill in the gap.
Among those who spoke up against the Air India measure were Prof Rao and the National Institute of Immunologys Dr Satyajit Rath. Earlier this month,the SAC-PM had also expressed its views on genetically engineered crops,saying the mechanism to regulate the same was sound and lamenting the dearth of a science-informed,evidence-based approach on the subject. The Environment Ministry suspended Bt Brinjal indefinitely in 2010,saying its safety and efficacy hadnt been established.
While in the present case the AI may be well within its rights to decide what or what not to carry,scientists seeking to be heard is,either ways,a welcome development.
Amitabh is a senior assistant editor based in New Delhi
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