Debate over nuclear energy and genetically modified food has come to the fore again, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday saying such “complex” issues should be approached through a structured debate and analysis, than being driven by faith or fear.

“Complex issues, be they genetically modified food or nuclear energy or exploration of outer space, cannot be settled by faith, emotion and fear but by structured debate, analysis and enlightenment. A scientific approach and understanding of these issues are, therefore, as vital as our core scientific capabilities,” he said.

Speaking at the 100th annual session of the Indian Science Congress, which opened here on Thursday, he said there was need to enhance scientific temper in the country through greater investment in popularising science, not only in schools and colleges, but also homes, workplaces and the community at large.

The Prime Minister urged the scientific community to give top priority to research in agricultural production and productivity, energy security, sanitation, provision of safe drinking water, labour intensive manufacture and universal health care at affordable costs. “Our scholarship and research must be informed by a keen awareness of our basic social and economic realities. Given the limited resources that we, as a nation, are able to devote to scientific research, it is imperative that we give priority to meeting those challenges, which are fundamental to the transformation of our economy,” he said.

Dr. Singh favoured a holistic organisational approach with cross-fertilisation of disciplines and synergy among the stakeholders. Research in private laboratories must supplement government-sponsored research, and academia and research systems must foster innovation and enterprises and link up with those interested in commercial development.

He asked scientists to work for bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots. Referring to international collaboration in science and technology, he asked the scientific community to not only partner with established leaders, but also with emerging innovation powerhouses. Dr. Singh released the much-waited science, technology and innovation policy, which seeks to position India among the top five global scientific powers by 2020. He paid tributes to the founding fathers of Indian Science Congress Association — Ashutosh Mukherjee, J.L. Simonsen and P. S. MacMoban — and stalwarts such as Acharya Prfaulla Chandhra Ray, R.N. Mookerjee, Jagdish Chandra Bose, M. Visvesvaraya, C.V. Raman, SN.N. Bose and Meghnad Saha who, he said, made it a vehicle for spreading knowledge and development of India.

Shiv Sahay Singh writes:

At the inauguration ceremony of the Indian Science Congress, President Pranab Mukherjee said a Nobel Prize in the sciences was long overdue for India.

He called upon the scientific fraternity of the country to rise to the challenge and work to achieving the goal.

“It has been 83 long years since C.V. Raman won the Nobel Prize for Physics. Another Nobel Prize in the sciences is long overdue for India. I call upon the scientific community gathered here to rise up to this challenge and work towards this goal in a time-bound manner,” he said.

Referring to the Nobel Prizes awarded to Ronald Ross, Rabindranath Tagore, C.V. Raman and Mother Teresa, he said all of them were “somehow linked to the city of Kolkata.”

The earliest associations associated with the sciences, such as the Asiatic Society, the Indian Association of Cultivation of Science and the Indian Science Congress Association, were set up in the State. Luminaries such as Sir J.C. Bose, Prof. S.N. Bose, Meghnad Saha and many others emerged from there to build the edifice of modern science in the country.