Commenting on the record of British rule in India, Jawaharlal Nehru observed in his Autobiography: "I feel sure that it was a good thing for India to come in contact with the scientific and. Industrial west. Science was the great gift of the West, and India lacked this and without it she was doomed to decay"'. Science here of course, meant the modern Science and Technology (S & T) of the West. Nurturing, developing and gaining mastery over the use of this S & T was thus seen to be the central task for the newly independent nation in order for it to pull [itself out of the' stagnation and decay in which it found itself, and to gain a place of respect in the community of nations. It will be no exaggeration to state that [practically every desirable goal of development like national self-reliance, local self- sufficiency, elimination! of oppression and injustice, achievement of democracy, social justice [and equality etc., was seen to be conditional upon our ability to catch up with the West in terms of the development of modern S & T. No wonder then that this task was accorded the highest priority in all our developmental thinking and efforts. We have witnessed a phenomenal growth in the variety, number and size of S & T establishments and institutions like those under the DRDO, CSIR, DOE, ISRO, CAR, ICMR, DAE etc, as well as the setting up of the IITs and RECs, deemed universities, centers of excellence and advanced learning etc., to train the 'necessary man power all this amounting to more than two percent of all Governmental spending. Spending on S & T has been one of the two issues (the other being defense spending) on which all shades of vocal political opinion in our country have concurred. We were also being continuously assured from all platforms that, whatever else we might or might not have achieved, development of modern S & T here is one area in which our achievements have indeed been spectacular. [It is in this context that the Government has announced its latest plan for the advancement of modem S & T here, viz. the setting up of "Science Cities". That a scheme so totally bankrupt and devoid of any foresight and vision should be seriously put forward as the next step in the development of S & T here, should in itself compel any one to take a serious and critical look at what path we have hitherto been following on the S & T front.

Even though not much details have been made available, the scheme of 'Science Cities' aims at setting up exclusive townships with ultra-modern facilities in different 'parts of the country where Indian scientists and engineers working abroad would be invited to 'come and undertake research, development as well as production activities employing their specialized skills and expertise. The first such city is planned to be located at Kothagiri in the Nilgiris, to be built at an initial cost of about a (hundred and twenty five cores of rupees. It is meant to attract Indian scientists and engineers working abroad, to "provide a nucleus for taking advantage of new frontiers in S & T, particularly high technology, and promotion of an appropriate blend of emerging and traditional technologies". The rationale behind the extension of invitations to non-resident Indians is to take advantage of the capability and skills of these professionals in solving India's multitude of problems and to bring the latest technology to India, and to create a unique show piece that will develop and demonstrate modern technology, and serve as a model for replication else-where in the country". The first phase of the project envisages the production of high-quality computer-related products meant specifically for export, and the second phase, the creation of planned township of about a thousand acres in the Nilgiris. Much of the investment for these ventures is expected to be provided by the Government as soft or interest-free loans. Considerable effort is being directed at wooing the S & T personnel abroad with offers of partnership in the industries to be established in the 'city', advanced research facilities, etc. In order that the offer looks attractive to them, they will also be provided with all the modern facilities that they are used to like five-star housing, markets, hospitals etc., and salaries much above those given to S & T personnel working in India.

It is quite significant as well as heartening that this scheme has not gone unnoticed in the S & T community within the country. The scheme has been openly and strongly criticized and opposed by many eminent members of the community on a variety of counts like the following:

  1. It is unnecessary and unjust to import S & T personnel from abroad at a time when equally qualified and talented persons are languishing within the country for want of adequate opportunities and encouragement.

  2. The scheme discriminates against precisely that section of selfless and patriotic Indian S & T personnel who have made sacrifices by refusing to settle abroad and instead decided to stay and work in India even at considerable "cost' to their careers.

  3. The scheme will encourage Indian S & T personnel to increasingly go and settle abroad because of the better treatment they will later receive from the Indian Government.

  4. Development of S & T in India will be much better served by debureaucratizing and democratizing the existing S & T institutions rather than by trying to get quick results through dubious methods like the present scheme, and so on.

As our S & T Community in the past has but rarely, if ever, discussed and debated matters of policy and planning related to S & T, whatever little debate and criticism the "Science City" scheme has evoked is in itself valuable and is indicative of the strong sentiments that has been evoked by this scheme. However, one cannot help noticing that the content of this debate has fallen short of most of the fundamental issues and questions that need to be addressed in the light of schemes' such-as the proposed one.

More than being an exception to, and an aberration from, an otherwise healthy and sound plan, the idea of "Science City" is quite typical and representative of th9 kind of thinking that has dominated our S & T planning one can perceive an essentially unbroken continuity in the logic of our S & T thinking that has ultimately resulted in a patently (absurd scheme such as this. The following may be seen as some of the cardinal elements of this logic and the kind of aberrations that it has led to:

  1. A belief that the latest in the Western S & T is the best and most suited for us has been increasingly dominating all our S & T thinking. Every serious and sincere effort to develop a certain branch of S & T has invariably been abandoned half-way-through on seeing that we are nowhere near achieving 'the latest' in the field, and wet don't see any worth in a pursuit that may not result in the latest.

    Lacking the courage to set up our own objectives, goals and criteria and pursue programs meaningful, to us most of the thinking has been on finding ways and means of getting the latest. No wonder that this 'get-rich-quick' type of thinking throws up absurd schemes like this “Science City". There is no way of eliminating such idiocies unless we get rid of the idea that what is needed for us is what is the latest in the West.

  2. Our post-independence S & T thinking has all along been characterized by a refusal to persist with and build on the institutions and structures that are once built. Most new stages of planning have meant abandoning the old structures and institutions and floating new ones. A classic case of this was witnessed at the time of setting up of the IIT's. The decision was not to develop the existing institutions and universities, but to start new-ones, populated by new sets of personnel. This 'slash-and burn' or 'shifting' mode of cultivation of S & T has all along been prevalent, and setting up of "Science Cities" is but the latest result of such thinking.

  3. Whatever genuineness that one may grant to the early leaders of our post-independence S & T planning on the issue of achieving self-reliance and independence Jin S&T matters,' all our S & T planning subsequently has increasingly and systematically diluted and abandoned this objective. Ideas like the 'Science City' and the recent further relaxation of technology import restrictions etc., are' but consequences of this thinking. Unless the S&T Community is able and willing to debate this central feature of the dominant thinking, schemes like the 'Science City' are bound to be put forth and pushed through at an increasing pace.

  4. One can perceive a steadily increasing tendency to shield and isolate our S & T institutions and personnel from the "native atmosphere". Setting up of exclusive and insulated campuses and townships, getting the personnel from other exclusive institutions (or more increasingly, from abroad) and in various ways, preventing their being contaminated by the "native air", has been quite characteristic of this process. As and when such isolation begins to breakdown, the venture is slowly abandoned and newer ones are started. The 'Science City' is merely a stage in this process where a 'Western atmosphere' will be simulated in a few pockets of our country where Indians from abroad may pursue S & T work needed for India. As these 'Cities' are also likely to eventually get polluted by the 'native air', the next step in the process may well be that the Indian Government might buy up some land in Europe or America and equip it suitably so that Indian and Western S & T personnel can sit there and work on S & T problems relevant to India.

  5. Plans like 'Free Trade Zones,' 'Science Cities' and more recently 'Technology Parks' etc., are often justified saying that countries like South Korea and Taiwan have been making a 'success' of similar schemes. It has been quite characteristic of our developmental thinking (not only in S & T matters) that, rather than developing and evolving our own institutions and methods, we have rather indiscriminately and quite chaotically been importing ready-made 'solutions' and techniques from conditions and contexts quite alien to ours and unsuited to us. That countries like South Korea and Taiwan are being considered as models for us, today merely denotes the extent of bankruptcy in thinking that we seem to have reached.

Having said all this, it must not be concluded that the issue is one of there being some sort of an overt conspiracy by the leaders of our S & T planning. It is more likely that what we are witnessing is the steady unfolding of the very logic of attempting to develop modern S & T, and base all the developmental efforts on the foundations of such an S & T, in the context of a third-world country like ours. For, the experience here has not been singular; practically all the nations placed in conditions similar to ours have had by and large a similar experience in trying to develop modern S & T. Infect it may well be that India represents a case where the experiment was undertaken most systematically, seriously and sincerely. The failure of the experiment here (which is what the "Science City" plan is loudly proclaiming) should therefore be seriously examined, analyzed and understood, rather than putting all the blame on someone's villainy, bungling or foolishness. Even granting that whatever was done during the last four decades was the best that could be done under those circumstances, the time has perhaps come now to recognize that we are getting nowhere near where we claim we want to reach, and rather than persist with plans as foolish as the 'Science City' scheme, we should be exploring alternative ways meaningful" and relevant to us. If the debate on the 'Science City' can help initiate such a process then even this absurd scheme would have, after all, served some useful purpose.

Author: Bangalore Group


1. Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography, p 432, Delhi 1978.

2. Move For Science City: Indian Express, 21 September 1983

3. Dinesh Mohan : Science Cities: Mausoleums of Academia

4. Science Today: March 1984 and June 1984. A debate on this scheme was also carried in issues of Nature in 1984.

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