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

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