A first in 100 years, Indian Science Congress postponed amid tussle between organisers, Govt – The Indian Express

For more than a century, January 3 marked the start of the five-day Indian Science Congress, a showpiece event to highlight Indian science, with the Prime Minister attending the inaugural event. Not this year. In an unprecedented break from tradition, this year’s event has been postponed, with no decision yet to hold it at a later date.

The Indian Science Congress could not be held in 2021 and 2022 as well, but that was because of the disruption caused by Covid pandemic. The 10th edition of the event did take place in 2023, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi could only make an online appearance at the inaugural event. He had attended in person all the previous editions during his tenure.

This year’s break, which raises question marks over the continuance of the event, is a direct result of a tiff between the Indian Science Congress Association (ISCA), a registered society that organises the event, and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), its main funder. In September last year, the DST withdrew its funding support to ISCA citing “financial irregularities”, a charge that ISCA rejected. ISCA went to court against the DST directive not to use government funds to meet any expenditure related to Science Congress, which created more bad blood between the two. The court case has not yet been decided.

Ranjit Kumar Verma, general secretary of ISCA, said it was unfortunate that the event was not being held on time, but said this was not the end of the Science Congress.

“We will hopefully be able to organise the Science Congress before March 31 and we are hopeful that the Prime Minister will attend the event,” he said.

Festive offer

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also did not rule out the resumption of financial support to the Science Congress. “There was a disagreement over the funding for this year’s event, but this does not mean that there would be no support for all future events. Discussions for collaboration will continue for the Science Congress scheduled for 2025,” he said.

The Rs 5 crore funding that DST provides takes care of the bulk of the expenditure incurred on the Science Congress. ISCA receives money from some other government organisations engaged in promotion of science, and also raises some money through subscriptions from its members but that is not a substantial amount.

Starved of funds, ISCA decided to shift the venue from Lucknow University to Lovely Professional University (LPU) with the hope that the private university in Punjab would be able to share some of the expenditure. The choice of LPU, which hosted the 106th Science Congress as well in 2019, was also a major contentious issue, with the DST said to be not very happy with the venue. The ISCA insisted that its executive committee never needed DST permission to decide on the venue, and that a DST representative was present in the meeting that had finalised the venue.

Interestingly, the LPU, which had offered to host the event when an alternative venue was being searched, itself dropped out last month, barely two weeks before the event.

Once the flagship event where the who’s who of the Indian scientific community used to gather to talk about and discuss latest developments in science, the Science Congress had suffered a sharp decline in quality in the last couple of decades, leading to demands, from within the scientific community as well, to reform or disband it. With most leading scientists keeping away, the event had been reduced to a gathering of mostly university and college teachers with little scientific credentials or experience.

In recent years, it attracted more attention because of mediocre and dubious speakers making outlandish claims or promoting pseudoscience than for any serious scientific discussions.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

Anonna Dutt is a Principal Correspondent who writes primarily on health at the Indian Express. She reports on myriad topics ranging from the growing burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension to the problems with pervasive infectious conditions. She reported on the government’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic and closely followed the vaccination programme.

Her stories have resulted in the city government investing in high-end tests for the poor and acknowledging errors in their official reports.

Dutt also takes a keen interest in the country’s space programme and has written on key missions like Chandrayaan 2 and 3, Aditya L1, and Gaganyaan.

She was among the first batch of eleven media fellows with RBM Partnership to End Malaria. She was also selected to participate in the short-term programme on early childhood reporting at Columbia University’s Dart Centre. Dutt has a Bachelor’s Degree from the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune and a PG Diploma from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. She started her reporting career with the Hindustan Times.

When not at work, she tries to appease the Duolingo owl with her French skills and sometimes takes to the dance floor. … Read More

First uploaded on: 02-01-2024 at 23:41 IST


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