Category Archives: Newswire

Ending Discrimination in Surrogacy laws


Recent meetings on March 6 and 7 of departments and ministries of the Government of India, to discuss and review divergent views on the draft Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2013 (ART Bill), have resulted in a proposal to revise the Bill with significant changes. The most crucial proposal is to restrict surrogacy in India to “infertile Indian married couples” only. Non-resident Indians (NRIs), Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) would be eligible but foreigners, unless they’re married to Indian citizens, will not. The purpose of this is to prevent exploitation of Indian women who may be tempted to take the risk of surrogacy in the face of financial hardships.

Existing Policy

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), working under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) finalised the National Guidelines for Accreditation, Supervision and Regulation of ART Clinics in India in 2005 after extensive public debate across the country involving all stake holders. Under these guidelines, there was no legal bar for the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) by a single or an unmarried woman, and the child born would have legal rights on the woman or man concerned.

Thereafter, the draft ART Bills of 2008, 2010 and 2013, stated to be revised based on the recommendations of the Ministry of Law and Justice, have consistently proposed that ART in India would be available to all persons including single persons and foreign couples. The draft Bill 2013, an exhaustive document containing 100 sections addressing various issues relating to ART, is stated to now be ‘Top Secret,’ being a part of the Cabinet note as per the requirement and procedure of the handbook of the Cabinet Secretariat on Cabinet writing notes. The draft Bills and Rules of 2008 and 2010 were extensively circulated for public opinion, besides being sent to State governments, institutions, statutory bodies, NGOs, medical professionals and other stakeholders, but the 2013 Bill was not circulated or placed in the public domain.

The Supreme Court judgment in Baby Manji Yamada vs Union Of India case in 2008 took due notice that in cases of “commercial surrogacy,” an intended parent may be a single male. The Court had the occasion to consider the petition of a Japanese grandmother wanting issuance of a travel document for her Japanese divorced son’s daughter.

In another matter decided by the Gujarat High Court in Jan Balaz vs. Union of India, 2009, the decision of the High Court holding — that babies born in India to gestational surrogates are Indian citizens and are entitled to Indian passports — has been stayed by the Supreme Court. However, the twin German children in the case were permitted to leave India upon the directions of the apex Court. The main issue of nationality and citizenship, being of grave importance, is still undecided.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), according to the guidelines of July 9, 2012, restricted surrogacy to foreign nationals; i.e. a man and a woman married for at least two years would be required to take a medical visa for surrogacy in India. As of now, even though surrogacy is an administrative concern and in the domain of the MoHFW, it has been decided that till the enactment of a law on the ART Bill, 2013, the guidelines issued by the MHA will prevail till then. Hence, foreign single parent surrogacy is barren.

Restricting surrogacy to infertile Indian married couples only, and debarring all foreigners other than OCIs, PIOs and NRI married couples, is a turnaround in the thought process. The suggestion barring foreigners from commissioning surrogacy in India is stated to be subject to there being no conflict with other Indian laws applicable to foreigners, such as those for adoption. The most important contradiction and inconsistency seems to be that arising from the Guidelines Governing the Adoption of Children, 2011, for inter-country adoptions, which now have statutory sanction by virtue of them having being enacted under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. The Juvenile Justice Act clearly provides that a court may allow a child to be given in adoption to an individual, irrespective of his or her marital status.

Moreover, the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890 and The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 permit a guardian to be declared or appointed where the Court is satisfied that it is for the welfare of a minor. Barring single parents to adopt is not statutory but can be a restraint in a particular case upon examination by a competent court. Therefore, debarring single persons and foreign nationals from being parents will amount to rewriting laws in existence which have been enacted by Parliament.

Recent Decisions

The Supreme Court in Stephanie Joan Becker vs State in 2013 permitted a single 53-year-old lady to adopt a female orphan child aged 10 by relaxing the rigour of the guidelines of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA). It said the proposed adoption would be beneficial to the child as experts were of the view that the adoption process would end in successful blending of the child in the U.S. Likewise, in Shabnam Hashmi vs. Union of India, 2014, the Court upheld the recognition of the right to adopt and to be adopted as a fundamental right. It held that every person, irrespective of the religion he/she professes, is entitled to adopt. The latest verdict of the Supreme Court recognising transgenders as the third gender says “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution.” Clearly, legal recognition means that they would be entitled to rights of adoption, succession, inheritance and other privileges under law.

The sum and substance is not to shut the door to surrogacy which is an accepted societal practice in India and grown slowly over almost two decades. Medical technology, advancement of science permitting free export of frozen embryos and other scientific methods have offered hopes to childless people. The more pragmatic approach would be to make a law hedged with safeguards, checks and balances. The appropriate and desirable method would be to create a mechanism to judge the suitability of proposed surrogate parents rather than to debar all single and foreign persons. This would also avoid any conflict with existing laws of adoption wherein foreign persons including single parents are allowed to adopt through a strict and rigorous mechanism provided by CARA.

Simply trying to shut out surrogacy for foreign nationals and single persons may not be the ideal way to stamp out the hopes of persons wishing to be a parent. Whether Indians or foreign nationals, law treats persons as individual parents when required. A restrictive meaning to the word “person” cannot qualify or change the definition by restricting it to an Indian national. The celebrated view of the apex court in widening the horizons to prevent discrimination on grounds of sex or gender identity is a new thought process based on international covenants of human rights. We cannot permit our thinking to be retrograde simply because of the problems accompanying surrogacy. Administrators cannot usurp law making functions to be a law unto themselves.

Published in The Hindu, May 3, 2014; by Anil Malhotra

No visa for PIOs coming for Surrogacy


Union Home Ministry issued an order on 6 March 2014 saying that an Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) can visit India without a medical visa for commissioning surrogacy. This facility will be applicable for those couples who are married for at least two years and will only require permission only from the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) or the Foreigners’ Registration Office (FRO).

They must, however, carry a letter from their country, issued by the Foreign Ministry or the Embassy here, saying it recognised surrogacy and that the child born thus would be permitted entry as the couple’s biological offspring.

The couple should furnish an undertaking that they would take care of the child. Treatment should be done only at registered assisted reproductive technology clinics recognised by the Indian Council of Medical Research. The couple will have to produce a notarised agreement between them and the prospective surrogate mother.

Before granting the child exit, the FRRO/FRO will confirm that the couple had taken the required permission and certificates for commissioning surrogacy, and liabilities due to the surrogate mother have been settled. The office will retain a copy of the birth certificate.

The wife of a foreign national or an OCI/PIO cardholder who is not involved in the treatment may not require a specific medical visa.

OCI & PIO Cardholders

The OCI card is issued to foreign nationals who were eligible to become citizens of India on January 26, 1950, or were Indian citizens on or after that date with eligibility based on lineage. The PIO card is issued to a person of Indian origin who is a citizen of any country other than Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, China or Nepal or who has held an Indian passport at any time or is the spouse of an Indian citizen or a Person of Indian Origin.

[Credit – The Hindu]

Regulating Genetic Modification


Published in The Hindu, February 25, 2014; by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan

It is 61 years since the beginning of new genetics based on the discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule. It is also 31 years since the production of transgenic plants. The first patent for a living organism went to Dr. Anand Chakraborty who, through recombinant DNA technology, developed an organism to clean up oil spills. The fields of medicine, industry, environment and agriculture have reaped the benefits of the science of molecular genetics. In medicine, it has led to new vaccines, insulin and genetic medicine. The major concern in medical genetics is one of ethics, an example being the application of recombinant DNA technology for reproductive cloning.

Therapeutic cloning, on the other hand, has been welcomed. Growing pollution of ground and river water has created great interest in bioremediation methodologies in the field of environmental biotechnology. It is only in food and agricultural biotechnology that there are concerns about biosafety, environmental safety, biodiversity loss and human and farm animal health.

In technologies which share benefits and risks, it is important to have regulatory mechanisms which can help to analyse risks and benefits in an impartial and professionally competent manner. It is the same in the case of nuclear energy. This is why the government introduced a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill in Parliament.

Unfortunately, the validity of this Bill has now expired with the conclusion of the 15th Lok Sabha. This gives the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), the Ministry of Environment and Forests and other agencies a chance to revisit the text of the Bill and get a new Bill prepared for introduction as soon as the new Parliament convenes. An academy may be set up to prepare a new text which is likely to have greater political, public, professional and media acceptance.

Addressing concerns
The Agricultural Biotechnology Committee — which I chaired in 2003 and which submitted its report early in 2004 — had recommended a Parliament approved regulatory agency as well as the necessary infrastructure for conducting all India coordinated trials with genetically modified organisms (GMO). The necessary precautions, such as the needed isolation as well as demonstration of the importance of refuge, should be undertaken under this project. As 10 years have passed since this recommendation was made, we should lose no further time in implementing it. There must be a trial and safety assessment system which answers the concerns of anti-GMO non-governmental organisations. The present moratorium on field trials with recombinant DNA material is a handicap as well as a disincentive in harnessing the benefits of the wide array of transgenic material available with various research organisations and universities. Many of the GMOs in the breeders’ assembly line have excellent qualities for resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses as well as improved nutrition. Much of this work has been done in institutions committed to public good. Also, much of the work has been done by young scientists, discouraged now because of the lack of a clear official signal on the future of genetic modification.

As agriculture is a state subject, State agricultural universities and State departments of agriculture should be involved in the design and implementation of field trials. It takes nearly 10 years time for a new variety to be ready for recommendation to farmers. Therefore, speed is of the essence in organising field trials and getting reliable data on risks and benefits.

Public-private partnership
The return from investments in biotechnology research is very high. Bt cotton research might have resulted in a profit of over Rs.50,000 crore, as compared to the total expenditure of about Rs.100 crore in such research. Public sector institutions should concentrate on the development of high yielding and disease resistant varieties, while obviously the private sector will only produce hybrids whose seeds will have to be brought every year by farmers. A joint strategy by public and private sectors will help to ensure the inclusiveness of access to improved technologies among all farmers.

Nutrition security involves paying attention to balanced diets (both macro and micronutrients), clean drinking water, sanitation, primary health care and nutrition literacy. While the Food Security Act 2013 will ensure that all needing social protection against hunger will be able to get the needed calories, other nutritional problems such as protein hunger and hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micro-nutrients will need similar attention. Thus, while working for nutritional security, both food and non-food factors, particularly drinking water and sanitation, will require concurrent attention.

Biofortification also needs our attention. Naturally biofortified crops like yellow flesh sweet potato, drumstick, amla, breadfruit, etc should be popularised in nutrition gardens and agroforestry systems. Biofortified crops developed by selection and breeding like iron rich bajra should also become available. On my suggestion, the Finance Minister provided in the budget for 2013-14, Rs.200 crore for promoting nutri-farms in districts where there is a high malnutrition burden. We should launch a programme this year, as also the International Year of Family Farming, to develop every family farm into a nutri farm, so that agricultural remedies can be applied to the major nutritional maladies prevalent in the area.

Promoting research
There is need for a pan-India political support to promote genetic engineering research. Every research institution should have a project selection committee to examine whether recombinant DNA technology is necessary to achieve the desired breeding goal. In many cases, marker assisted selection would be adequate for developing a variety with the necessary characters. Recombinant DNA technology should be resorted to only when there is no other way of achieving the desired objective.

Translational research needs greater attention for converting scientific know-how into farmers’ do-how. Culinary and organoleptic characteristics of new varieties should be examined with the help of home science colleges. There is increasing interest in organic farming. Organic farming certification procedures permit the use of marker assisted selection.

Several States want to become organic farming states. ICAR should explain the pre-requisites for successful organic farming, such as the availability of adequate organic manure and plant protection measures which do not need synthetic pesticides. There has to be a methodology to face the challenge of the unholy triple alliance of pests, pathogens and weeds on organic farms.

Biodiversity is the feedstock of the biotechnology industry. Therefore, the conservation and sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity should be a major concern of biotechnologists. Krishi Vigyan Kendras should have the capability of offering scientifically credible advice to farmers on GMOs. The academy should set up two committees — on the public understanding of science and the political understanding of science — on the pattern of such committees set up by the Royal Society of London.

Disseminating information
Media resource centres should be set up to give up-to-date scientific information to media representatives. Village knowledge centres should be utilised for spreading correct information on GMOs.

Countries like the United States have effective regulatory mechanisms supported by scientific infrastructure. In the U.S., three agencies — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Agricultural Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) — are concerned with regulations and work as a team while examining and clearing the safety aspects of GMOs. It is time that we also have a professionally managed and coordinated efficient regulatory mechanism.

The academy should facilitate the early removal of the moratorium on field trials by ensuring that such trials will be conducted under safe conditions. The academy could also develop a statement on new technologies for small farmers to be considered for inclusion in the election manifestos of political parties.

(Prof. M.S. Swaminathan is founder chairman and chief mentor, UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai.)

Govt to set up Scientific Research Funding Agency


Finance Minister P. Chidambaram on 17 Feb 2013, while presenting the interim budget for the fiscal 2014-15 in the Lok Sabha announced several flight tests, and launch of navigational satellites and space missions for 2014-15.

“India joined a handful of countries when it launched the Mars Orbiter Mission. We now have the capability in launch vehicle technology, cryogenics, navigation, meteorological and communication satellites, and are largely self-reliant,” he said. “Several flight tests, navigational satellites and space missions are planned for 2014-15,” he added.

The FM also announced that a ‘Research Funding Organisation’ is to be set up to fund research projects selected through a competitive process. He also said that contributions to that organisation will be eligible for tax benefits. “This will require legislative changes which can be introduced at the time of the regular Budget,” the FM said.

Chidambaram had announced to set up a Rs 2,000 crore fund in his budget for 2013-14 as well, so as to boost scientific innovations that can improve the life of common man.

India to Develop People-centred Technology With BRICS Partners


India will collaborate with the four other BRICS countries in science and technology to generate new knowledge and develop innovative products, services and processes, critical to its and the grouping’s growing economies.

Science and technology ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) met at Kleinmond, southeast of Cape Town, South Africa, last week and agreed to promote partnerships also with other strategic actors in the developing world.

They zeroed in on five sectors of climate change and mitigation of natural disasters; water resources and pollution treatment; geospatial technology and its applications; alternative and renewable energy; and astronomy to share experiences and complementarities.

India would thus drive geospatial technology and its application, while Brazil will lead climate change and natural disasters. Russia would head water resources and pollution treatment. New and renewable energy and energy efficiency would be led by China while South Africa would steer astronomy.

Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary, department of science and technology, represented India at the first ministerial on “A Strategic Partnership for Equitable Growth and Sustainable Development”.

The ministers reached a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to stimulate joint investment in the development of high technologies, create common technology platforms and set up centres of applied research and innovation laboratories. The MOU will serve as the “strategic inter-governmental framework” that would be signed by the heads of state and government at the 6th BRICS Summit scheduled for July in Fortaleza, Brazil.

The February 10-11 meeting, held as per the “eThekwini declaration and Action Plan” adopted at the Durban Summit last year, also ensured complementarities vis-à-vis cooperation with Africa, notably regarding increased access to technology as well as the launch of the BRICS Business Council and the BRICS Think Tanks Council.

The ministers suggested the establishment of mechanisms to transfer technology and knowledge and the creation of a student exchange programme within the group to address their human capital challenges.

“The meeting is a clear demonstration of our commitment to intensify cooperation in science, technology and innovation (STI) within the BRICS framework”, said Derek Hanekom, South African minister of science and technology.

Hanekom said the University of Cape Town has discovered a novel chemical compound which has “exciting potential” to both control and eradication of malaria.

India and South Africa are hosting components of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, promoted by the United Nations.

The participants declared their intention to face the common global and regional socio-economic challenges, and emphasised that the basis for cooperation in STI among the bloc’s countries should be centred on people and the public assets in order to support equitable growth and sustainable development.

“We agree that people centred and public good driven science, technology and innovation, supporting equitable growth and sustainable development, shall form the basis of our cooperation within the framework of BRICS,” they said.

The Kleinmond meeting took place in the context of the First BRICS Summit held in 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where the leaders at that time envisaged cooperation in the field of science, technology and innovation with the aim to engage in fundamental research and development of advanced technologies.

There is already broad agreement amongst the BRICS partners on possible priority areas for cooperation. These include exchange of information on science, technology and innovation policies and programmes and promotion of innovation; food security and sustainable agriculture; nanotechnology; biotechnology and technology incubators.

The 3rd BRICS Summit in Sanya, China, in 2011 resulted in member-countries setting up working mechanisms that include a BRICS Science, Technology and Innovation senior officials meeting and the STI Working Group.

The BRICS ministers visited the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) site in Carnarvon, where the world’s biggest and most sensitive radio telescope, will be jointly built by South Africa in collaboration with Australia and New Zealand.

The telescope is a combination of thousands of dishes and antennas, whose total collecting area will be approximately one square km, giving 50 times the sensitivity and 10,000 times the survey speed of the best current-day telescopes.

It will address unanswered fundamental questions about our universe, including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the big bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond the earth.

[Source – IANS – NEW DELHI]

Integrating IT and BT

DNA strand with code

Published in The Hindu (3 Feb 2014)

Beyond the rhyming of the terms IT (Information Technology) and BT (Biotechnology), there can indeed be a valuable integration between the two — which is yet to be optimally exploited in the country. Many government departments deal with these sectors together, but essentially without any connection. IT, at least to start with, grew with initiatives in the private sector, whereas the growth of BT has been mostly due to government support. There was hype around BT at one stage to the extent that parents were prepared to pay expensive fees to get their children admitted to BT courses, only to find that their employment opportunities, unlike in the IT sector, did not hold much promise. The backlash led to such courses losing their sheen. There were not many industries to absorb the candidates, who were also found to be unemployable in terms of knowledge and training. However, the sector seems to have now stabilised and is on the growth path. The BT industry is growing at around 20 per cent which is quite significant in the context of a general industrial deceleration. The present turnover is estimated at $5 billion with a projection of $100 billion by 2025. The IT industry is valued at $100 billion with a projection of $300 billion by 2025. However, the scope of the BT sector is very large and can even eclipse the IT sector in terms of employment opportunities and reach to the economy and social sectors. The sector permeates health and disease, food and agriculture, environment and industry. A more appropriate strategy would be to integrate IT and BT seamlessly, wherever applicable, and aim for the $500 billion mark by 2025.

There is a fundamental difference between the two sectors in India. The IT/ITes (IT-enabled Services) industry has become a major growth engine for the country’s economy. It is stated that it contributes to around 5.6 per cent of GDP and direct employment to 2.3 million people and much more indirectly. The projection is to provide jobs to 20 million people by 2020. The main verticals utilising IT are BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), telecom, manufacturing, media, construction and utilities, airlines and transportation, health services, etc. The fulcrum is services, be it IT or ITes/BPO (Business Process Outsourcing based on Internet) or engineering services. India is identified with software services and there is now an effort to generate products (software) and work out strategies for the global and internal markets. To remain competitive, strategies like cloud computing and Platform-BPO strategies are becoming the options. The weakest link is hardware, be it the IT or electronics sectors.

The limitations are raw material, technology and skilled human resource. Both raw material and technology need to be imported. Unlike the software industry, available human resource is not skilled enough to compete with the Asian giants in the field. Interestingly, BT is grounded in a hardware equivalent, be it vaccines or drugs, or diagnostics or monoclonal antibodies or agri-biotech or biomass-based products including the energy sector.

The establishment of the National Biotechnology Board in 1982 that led to the establishment of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in 1986 by the government of India is primarily responsible for the growth of life sciences and biotechnology in the country. The initial phase of building competence in academia is now leading to resurgence in the industry. The best thing that could have happened is the starting of the schemes such as the Small Business Innovative Research Initiative (SBIRI) and the Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP) in the last seven or eight years.

More recently, all these initiatives, along with additional ones, have come under the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), a Section 25 company set up by the DBT. There are around 400 biotech companies in the country and the numbers are growing. BIRAC supports around 300 projects with loans and grants to around 180 companies. A positive development is the evolving strong academia-industry interaction and intellectual property rights (IPR) filing in these projects, that has already led to development of some innovative products. A few representative examples are JE/pneumococcal/rotaviral vaccines, follicle stimulating hormone for infertility treatment, a microPCR platform diagnostic kit for parasite/viral infections, integrated navigation and training platform for tumour ablation, and a software platform for using mobile phone to analyse blood glucose strips. The vaccine sector is growing very strongly with a potential for India to assume global leadership. As is the case with the drug sector, where generics (out of patent drugs) are our strength, the BT sector is dominated by Biosimilars (erythropoietin, growth factors, monoclonal antibodies, insulin, industrial enzymes, etc.) besides conventional and recombinant vaccines. The only product in agri-biotech is Bt cotton. Many indigenous molecular diagnostic kits have been developed. There is perceptible activity in terms of medical instrument development.

The integration of IT and BT will help India make a mark in the innovation space. New drug discovery is one such major area which will help India move beyond Generics/Biosimilars. Bioinformatics is one such area, which can help in drug design. Unfortunately, most IT professionals have very little appreciation of biology. There are a large number of steps that need to be taken before the molecule designed on the computer can become a drug. This needs a full appreciation of the biological/clinical aspects involved. But, with the evolution of systems biology (mathematical biology) and synthetic biology, an entirely new horizon is being made available to discover new drugs or do pathway engineering to design new microbial/plant products. This is, perhaps, the approach that would be needed to study brain function or evaluate biodiversity potential in nature.

An analysis of complex variables is needed for successful stem cell therapy or to understand cancer prognosis or evaluate QTL (Quantitative Trait Loci) in crops that govern yield, pest and drought resistance, etc. While BT can develop simple diagnostic tools, automation and telemedicine will be needed for village communities to reap the benefits. If stethoscopes can become outdated, the day is not far off when portable ECG and MRI machines can reach the bedside. IT and BT need to integrate to streamline the manufacturing process of biotech products. We need integrated manpower, since skilled human resource is scarce in the area. The need of the hour is the evolution of IT (Dry lab) and BT (Wet lab) integrated companies in the areas of health, agriculture and industrial products.

[Written by – G. Padmanaban is INSA senior scientist, Department of Biochemistry, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.]

Vice-President says Science & Technology must for Growth

science congress

Published in Business Standard ,  February 7, 2014

Vice President Hamid Ansari Friday said that science and technology are indispensable for addressing major contemporary challenges of economic growth and social transformation.

“Science and technology are indispensable for addressing major contemporary challenges of economic growth and social transformation,” Ansari said in his valedictory address at the 101st session of the Indian Science Congress at the University of Jammu here.

The influence of science and technology on people’s lives in growing everyday, he noted.

“While recent benefits to humanity from science, technology and innovation are unparalleled in the history of the human species, there are instances where the impact has been harmful,” he said.

The development of sophisticated weapons of mass destruction based on scientific knowledge has a few times, threatened the very existence of mankind in the last century, he added.

“Weapons created by science have also imposed painful costs on nation-states during the several wars fought since the advent of the 20th century. The destructive powers of these weapons still pose a clear and present danger to humanity,” he said.

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Ansari added that scientists have a responsibility to mitigate, if not eliminate, the threats posed by excessive “weaponisation of the planet”.

“Gandhiji had listed ‘science without humanity’ as one of seven deadly sins. Scientists, therefore, have an onerous responsibility towards society and their fellow beings. They must distinguish between socially beneficial and socially harmful applications of their research and innovation,” he said.

Ansari suggested increased communication between the scientists and the public, civil society and policy-makers to find and implement solutions to issues of public need and interest.

“They could also take into account important questions such as reconciling the profit motive with the common good; providing for contributions from and benefits to deprived and marginalized segments of society; justifying current costs to prevent costs or damages to future generations…,” he added.

Adding that science needs to be fully integrated with the broader needs of the society, Ansari said: “Science also has to be cognizant of the social and ethical imperatives, which are integral to our being human and the basis of our civilization.”

At science meet, PM pitches for GM crops

Dr. Manmoahan Singh

Published in The Hindu,  February 3, 2014

Underscoring the need to ensure food security, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday favoured genetically modified crops, urging the people not to be swayed by “unscientific prejudices” against them.

“Use of biotechnology has great potential to improve yields. While safety must [also] be ensured, we should not succumb to unscientific prejudices against Bt. crops,” he said, inaugurating the 101st session of the Indian Science Congress here.

Dr. Singh urged scientists to engage more with society and explain socially productive applications of biotechnology and other alternatives. The government remained committed to the use of biotechnology and other new technologies for agricultural development.

He said the government would soon come out with another national mission on high performance computing on an outlay of Rs. 4,500 crore and was planning to establish a national geographical information system on an outlay of Rs. 3,000 crore. India would soon join, as an associate member, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, where international projects such as the research on ‘god particle’ was going on, and was planning to host the third detector for the global Gravitational Wave Experiment. “A national mission on teaching to enhance the esteem of our teachers is also being launched.”

The Prime Minister also announced the names of five eminent scientists, who have been selected for the recently instituted Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowships.

The fellowship is open to scientists who are either Nobel Laureates or Fellows of the Royal Society, or members of the United States or French academies of science. The selected scientists are entitled to a fellowship of $1,00,000 and a research grant of Rs. 55 lakh. They will have to do research in an institution here for 12 months, which can be spent in instalments over three years. The host institution would also get a grant of Rs. 10 lakh for providing laboratory and other facilities for the research.

The scheme provides for 25 fellowships. Five have so far been selected. They are mathematical scientist Professor Srinivasa Varadhan of New York University, computational biologist Professor M. Vidyasagar of University of Texas, life scientist Professor Azim Surani of University of Cambridge, astronomer Professor Srinivas Kulkarni of Caltech, and geo-scientist Professor Trevor Charles Platt of Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Four of the winners are Fellows of the Royal Society and one is an Abel medallist.

Seeking to project the achievements of his government over the past 10 years in science and technology, he noted that the Sixth Pay Commission had improved the conditions for academics and scientists. “International surveys have shown that India scores well in structures for scientific personnel. Our gross expenditure per full-time R&D personnel is increasingly comparable in purchasing power parity terms to some of the more developed R&D systems of the world.”

Science and Technology Minister Jaipal Reddy said the government would soon launch a Rs. 250-crore scheme for scaling up innovations to serve the needs of the common man, and an overseas scholarship programme for bridging gaps in critical and frontier areas of research.