Venkatraman ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan. Photo: The Wire
Venkatraman ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan recently said at the release of his book’s Tamil translation in Chennai that India’s science impetus has largely stagnated after a particular period of productivity which was elongated by Jawaharlal Nehru’s interest in science.
Ramakrishnan, who was one of three persons awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, delivered the talk while unveiling the translation of his book, Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome, at the Asian College of Journalism. In the talk, he also spoke on the political endorsement of pseudo-science and the lack of funding for science research.
Ramakrishnan said that the period before Independence saw India produce “world-class scientists, like C.V. Raman, J.C. Bose, Meghnad Saha, S.N. Bose and Homi Bhabha.”
“And their work was of a certain order of excellence. After Independence, it persisted for a while, because [former prime minister] Jawaharlal Nehru was very interested in science and funded a lot of science institutions. But after a while I got the feeling that it sort of stagnated for a while. Then, thanks to people like [pioneering Indian chemist] C.N.R. Rao and others who campaigned for more science funding, better facilities and equipment, things started to improve again,” Ramakrishnan said.
“One thing that happened doing this time was that science also wilted in the famous state universities, like Madras and Bombay and my own Baroda university and science and research migrated to central universities,” Ramakrishnan said.
These, Ramakrishnan said, meant that people who were being educated as undergraduates and PhD students were “somewhat isolated from where main research was done.”
He credited C.N.R. Rao with making an attempt to correct it by forming the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, which combined undergraduate and post-graduate studies with research.
He said that the other major issue that is holding back Indian science was the lack of sufficient funding, saying that spending as a fraction of the GDP in India “is much lower” than in China.
Bureaucratic red tape was another stumbling block, he said, adding that science needs “real commitment” by government and society.
Ramakrishnan’s hourlong talk and the question-answer session can be seen in the video below.