A champion of science, pro-poor technology

C. Subramaniam’s call for ‘science for the economic freedom of humanity’ echoes on his birth anniversary today

Updated - January 30, 2021 01:42 am IST

Published - January 30, 2021 12:02 am IST

C. Subramaniam.

C. Subramaniam.

The year 1910 was very significant for India and science. This was the year two great Indian stars, the astrophysicist, Dr. Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, or SC, and C. Subramaniam, or CS, were born.

Dr. Chandrasekhar was concerned about processes of importance in the evolution of stars in the universe. Mr. Subramaniam was concerned about the problem of food security in India. He sowed the seeds of the Green Revolution in Indian agriculture. Dr. Chandrasekhar explored space and propounded the concept of black holes, while Mr. Subramaniam championed the cause of science and technology to solve societal problems. The science of the universe was the call of Dr. Chandrasekhar. Science for humanity was the call of Mr. Subramaniam. And today, January 30, is the birth anniversary of Mr. Subramaniam, an architect of public policy for Indian science and of the ‘Green Revolution’ in the country.

Also read | The times and thoughts of CS

In addition to the above, CS championed the cause of planned public investments in science. This year, 2021, is significant for another reason — it is the golden jubilee year of the founding of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology. CS had an abiding trust in science and believed that technology alone could offer solutions to the problems faced by society. He called for the practice of science celebrated not only by other scientists but also by citizens and humanity.

Food sufficiency goal

In the grammar of life, the spirit of Mr. Subramaniam continues to live on a high moral ground. If one looks for the trademarks of CS, they are: superordinate national goals, probity in public life and institutional mechanisms. The Ministry of Science and Technology bears testimony to his lived life. When India faced the reality of ship-to-mouth status in the 1960s — when a few million tonnes of grain were imported — a superordinate goal that India became self-sufficient in food in five years was set. The goal was realised and has been sustained since then. After the Green Revolution, the site used for storing food grains (given in aid by the U.S. Government under Public Law 480) became the Technology Bhavan that continues to house the Ministry of Science and Technology; it serves as a reminder to scientists that the purpose of public investments in science must include its duty to ensure social and public good.

Our generation is a beneficiary of the long-term impacts of CS’s several contributions to education, agriculture, science and technology to name a few. He was one of the architects of modern India and relied on evidence-based approaches in decision making. Transparency and probity were his powerful tools. The blueprint for linking science and technology to the development path of India was cast by CS even before the formation of the dedicated Science and Technology Ministry. He was a rare combination of being a visionary and a missionary at the same time, and Indian science remains a beneficiary.

Also read | C. Subramaniam's multiple role in nation-building earns praise

The agro foundation

He realised that the economic freedom of every citizen of India was heavily reliant on the 4Es: Education, Environment, Economy and Empowerment of our farmers. The National Agro Foundation (NAF) was his gift to the nation on his 90th birthday. NAF, in its journey of 21 years, has lived up to his ideals. It institutionalised his will through farmer-centric programmes. In today’s world, rare are leaders like him. They did not live for themselves and their immediate families. They did not work for fame or glory. They sought no positional power. They practised the principles enshrined in civilisational legacies. They were rooted in culture with an agility to embrace changes in real time, with science and technology playing change functions. Mr. Subramaniam was a leader among leaders and remains a living role model for generations to come. No words of praise can fully capture the value of a life well lived.

Today is the 111th birth anniversary of CS. It is also a year since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in India, in Kerala . The novel coronavirus pandemic has pushed millions of people below the poverty line. The best way to pay tribute to a patriot like Mr. Subramaniam is to connect to science and see to it that it brings succour to the poor. He was a revered promoter of scientific temper and a shining Ratna of Bharat. His call for “science for [the] economic freedom of humanity” echoes loudly on his birth anniversary. May his voice for pro-poor technology be heard and worked upon.

T. Ramasami was Secretary, Department of Science and Technology

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