Rajya Sabha held a debate to felicitate the “successful, soft landing of Chandrayaan-3” on the South pole of moon by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Wednesday, with Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar calling India’s journey in space exploration a matter of national pride while Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said, that India’s space programme should not be seen as an “instrument of muscular nationalism.” Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh, during his intervention, said the government always encouraged scientists with funds and freedom so that led to the successful launch of Chandrayaan-3.
The Project Director of Chandrayaan-3 P. Veeramuthuvel, who was present in the officers gallery was also applauded by the House.
In his opening address to the debate, Mr. Dhankhar said, over the span of nearly six decades, India’s space programme has seen the country evolve from a nation relying on foreign launch vehicles to becoming fully self-reliant with its indigenous launch capabilities. India, he said, so far has launched 424 foreign satellites of which 90% were launched in the last nine years. “India’s journey in space exploration is indeed a matter of national pride,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh opened the debate for the opposition. He accused the government of attempting to “airbrush” the milestones achieved in the space sector since 1960s, saying that none of these achievements happened overnight. Citing the example of Aditya L-1 spacecraft which will be studying the solar atmosphere, he said, the work on it had started in 2006.
While lauding the Chandrayaan-3 mission, he said there was a need to remind the House of the people who have contributed so far to it, rather than fall victim to this new impression that has been created that this entire accomplishment is the result of only one individual and the space programme happened only after 2014. He criticised Leader of House Piyush Goyal who in his speech restricted himself to post-2014 achievements. “Even though the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House may choose to airbrush them away from history, they are a fact of life. They cannot be erased from history. They are very much part of our space journey,” he said.
Today’s achievements are based on the contributions of successive Prime Ministers and a large number of Indian scientists and technologists, many of whom we don’t even know of, many of whom we don’t even acknowledge, the Congress leader added.
Recalling the history of the Indian space programme, Mr. Ramesh said the first milestone was on February 22, 1962, when an office order was issued to establish the Indian National Committee for Space Research. The second milestone was the creation of the ISRO on August 15, 1969 and the third milestone was in July 1972 July when Satish Dhawan became the chairman of ISRO. Mr. Ramesh noted that the Indian space programme has always had a developmental orientation.
The Minister said in his speech that Chandrayaan-3 was achieved with a budget of about ₹ 600 crore. He said the brilliance of the scientists filled the resource gap. Countering Mr. Ramesh, Mr. Singh said the Opposition was trying to narrate a chronology to submerge facts. On startups in Space technology, he said there were four startups before 2014 and between 2020 and present there are 150 startups.
“If you see the space budget alone, there is a 142% increase in budget in the last nine years. The budget of Department of space in 2013-14 was 5,168.96 crore. The budget in 2023-24 for the Department of Space is 12,543.91 crore. It is almost three time increase,” the Minister said adding that the total budget for all the science departments in 2013-14 was ₹ 21,025 crore and in this budget, it is ₹ 57,303.69 crore.
“For Atomic Energy, it was ₹ 7,561 crore in 2013-14 and it is now up three times to ₹ 27,078 crore,” Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Ramesh had also said that the Indian space programme fundamentally should be looked at as an “instrument of development and not as an instrument of muscular nationalism.” CPI(M) MP V. Sivadasan said the staff of Heavy Engineering Corporation, who made key components for the mission, were working without salaries for the last 18 months.