March for Science: Scientists were instructed to stay away  

The Director’s office of CSIR-IGIB defends sending email to all researchers and scientists asking them not to take part in the march and says the Modi govt is not against science

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Ashutosh Sharma

Apprehending serious repercussions over what could have been perceived as an anti-government activity, many researchers and scientists were instructed not to participate in the India March for Science on August 9.

The march saw thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts from premier research institutions and colleges of the country taking to streets in 26 cities across the country. It was held to protest government promoting ‘unscientific ideas’ and budgetary cuts in the funding to research institutes. Hundreds of demonstrators holding placards, reading messages such as “Defend science, not defund science”, “stop killing science for your personal and political agenda” and sought “respect for research.”

Demanding that the government invest 3 per cent of country’s total GDP in the field of research and development, they lamented that the investment remains stagnant at around 0.9 per cent for the past 10 years.

Pertinently, India March for Science follows the global March for Science that was held in April, Washington DC, along with over 600 other cities around the world in April to support scientific research and evidence-based policy making. It was held shortly after US President Donald Trump’s inauguration earlier this year, to protest his government’s attitude towards science.

Describing climate change an “expensive hoax” and declaring that numerous environmental protection laws would be rolled back, President Trump had withdrawn the United States from the landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change.

In India, however, members of several institutes like Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB)—which is a premier Institute of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), engaged in research of national importance in the areas of genomics, molecular medicine, bioinformatics, proteomics and environmental biotechnology, were advised not to participate in the march.

March for Science: Scientists were instructed to stay away  
Screen grab of the Email sent to the members of CSIR-IGIB from the director

Citing reasons for issuing instructions to the members of the CSIR-IGIB, its director Dr Sanjay Kumar said that there was no need to hold such a march. “Modi government doesn’t have an anti-science perspective. It is encouraging science and funding has gone up,” he told National Herald, without disclosing the amount of funding that has been increased for his institute in the past three years.

His office in fact gave e-mail instructions to all members of CSIR-IGIB not to participate in the march. “In much demonstrations, there is always a possibility of police lathi-charge or any untoward incident can happen if a large gathering turns into a mob. So my first concern is the safety and security of my scientists,” he stated, adding that the Modi government is always there to financially support the scientists if there is a “mission” like Chandrayaan.

“I don’t understand why a particular group of scientists held such a march. I haven’t interacted with them,” he added, refusing that he had been instructed by higher authorities to advise the members of research body against participating in March for Science.

On August 8, without citing any reasons, an e-mail from the office of CSIR-IGIB director’s secretariat, written by his PA Manoj Kumar asked its members to not participate in the march.

The e-mail reads: “I am directed to inform all the members of CSIR-IGIB that they are advised not to participate in the March for Science which is being organised tomorrow.”

“Those who have been holding the governing bodies of research institutes don’t have a spine to stand for the promotion of science and scientific temperament or to counter the unscientific ideas being promoted in this country,” said a scientist at one CSIR institute on the basis of anonymity, adding that “heads of most of the institutes—mostly careerist-scientists—perceived that the march could be perceived as an anti-government activity, which will have serious ramifications. They are more concerned about their jobs rather than the discipline of science or the country for that matter.”

“In this country, a union minister says that India is carrying out scientific research to establish the benefits of cow dung, cow urine, cow milk, curd and clarified butter. Look at the kind of research subjects that are being appreciated and funded by the government,” he wondered.

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Published: 11 Aug 2017, 6:44 PM