The March for Science is being held worldwide since 2017 to uphold the banner of rationality and scientific temper and to remove the hurdles in the path of the onward march of science and social progress. The Indian scientific community has organized the Marches, generally in early August, to highlight the problems facing science on Indian soil. These include the abysmally low governmental support for education and scientific research, the concerted propaganda by fringe groups to propagate unscientific and obscurantist ideas with the support of the ruling dispensation, and the fact that governmental decisions are not guided by evidence-based science.
In the past year, when humankind has been facing an unprecedented crisis due to the COVID pandemic, these problems have increased manifold. Despite the scientific community alerting the government to the likelihood of a second wave as experienced by European and American countries, the ruling dispensation invited the crisis by propagating the false assurance that the COVID pandemic is over and by allowing mass gatherings in state elections and religious festivities. Last year, in a letter to the Prime Minister, scientists associated with the India March for Science had suggested concrete measures to tackle the pandemic. But the government chose to ignore this evidence-based scientific advice, precipitating a disaster when the second wave struck. While doctors, nurses and other health workers struggled valiantly to treat COVID patients handicapped by hopelessly inadequate healthcare infrastructure conditions, unscrupulous people were busy peddling untested concoctions as a remedies for COVID, often with government support.
Education and scientific research have been affected very badly during the lockdown due to the government’s apathy. PhD students have lost one-and-half years of research time, but the funding agencies have not yet extended the tenure of fellowships. Research institutions have lost enormous resources as live organisms have died, consumables have become unusable, and expensive equipment could not be serviced. While remedial action demanded additional funds, the funding support to all institutions has been slashed as the outlay on education has been reduced by about 6% in the 2021-22 budget while granting tax exemptions to the corporate sector!
Moreover, unscientific materials are being promoted by the education system in the name of ‘Indian Knowledge Systems’ – a mainstay of the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP), which was tabled in the Parliament during the pandemic. The IGNOU has announced the introduction of an MA course in astrology, and many other universities are introducing courses in astrology, Vastushastra and other areas of pseudo-science. Taking advantage of the pandemic, the government is proposing online mode of content delivery to partially replace in-class teaching as the ‘new normal’.
We request the scientific community to actively spread scientific temper among people to counter these wrong steps of the government. We demand that the Centre and State governments
- Take adequate steps based on scientific advice supported by data to counter the COVID pandemic.
- Stop propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas, and develop scientific temper, human values and spirit of inquiry in conformity with Article 51A of the Constitution.
- Ensure that the education system does not impart ideas that are not based on or contradict scientific evidence.
- Allocate at least 10% of the Central Budget and 30% of State budgets to education.
- Ensure that at least 3% of the country’s GDP is used to support scientific and technological research. Increase the financial support to scientific institutions and increase the fellowship tenure of PhD students by the period lost to the pandemic.