Delay in receiving lab equipment due to remoteness, corruption in fund management, dearth of jobs for returnee scientists and inadequate infrastructure are some of the major hurdles faced by researchers in India’s northeast region (NER) who demand good governance to promote science and technology in its eight states….writes Sahana Ghosh

New Delhi: Union Science and Technology Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan addresses at the inauguration of the International Conference on NexGen Technologies for Mining and Fuel Industries - NxGnMiFu - 2017, organised by CSIR-Central Institute of Mining & Fuel Research (CSIR-CIMFR), in New Delhi on Febr 15, 2017. (Photo: IANS/PIB) by .
Union Science and Technology Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan (Photo: IANS/PIB)

Damanbha Lyngdoh, an up-and-coming researcher from Shillong, Meghalaya, who has a special interest in parasites, lamented that a tiring and time-consuming nature of a trip to the labs in NER, mostly through small, winding and bad roads deters visitors, including scientists.

“Moreover, the time duration for various chemicals/machinery needed for various experiments to reach is too long as compared to other parts of the country,” Lyngdoh, currently a faculty at St. Anthony’s College, Shillong, said.

“This delay brings about late experimental results and failure to publish at the earliest, especially if there is a competition from other teams in other parts of the country/world),” he noted.

Biotechnologist and an advocate of bio-entrepreneurship, Assam’s Utpal Bora, deplored the dearth of quality manpower in adequate numbers. He said the number of science postgraduates joining doctoral research is very low.

“The best amongst those who go for research prefer to go aboard, the second rungs land up in National Laboratories in the metros and the quality of the leftover researchers is so poor that every scientist in NER has to struggle every year to start from scratch. In spite of this, whatever trained manpower comes out after Ph.D. research again enters same vicious cycle of going, abroad, joining labs in metros and so on,a Bora of IIT Guwahati, said.

Lyngdoh said difficulty in finding jobs for the locals in their hometown means that they have to go out to the metros and other big cities for employment.

“However, recently, safety is a major factor which has forced people from this region to come back and settle for a less deserving profession,” he pointed out.

Robin Dutta from Assam’s Tezpur University believes aligning research to the needs of the people is the “greatest challenge” in developing science and technology sector in northeast India.

“This (challenge) is followed by increasing academy-industry interfacing through rapid industrialization in the potential sectors (like oil, agro, pharma and tourism), developing infrastructure to minimise the locational disadvantage and good governance to check wastage of resources due to corruption,” Dutta, known for his efforts in water treatment technologies, said.

Despite ongoing efforts by the Centre, there are gaping holes when it comes to R&D funding, corruption and mismanagement, they feel.

“Though the Centre sometimes takes some measures like allocating 10 per cent of R&D budget for the northeast, they are hardly implemented honestly. A corrupt and inefficient management system including some defective expert committees play spoil sport,” Dutta observed.

Bora called for urgent action in setting up a science and policy research institute located in the NER to study the problems that plague the development of S&T in the region.

Lyngdoh batted for locals being given more preference for scientific posts (and other employment offers), otherwise, he says, the whole concept of uplifting NER is lost.

“Only a person born and brought up in this region will understand the difficulties that people are facing and therefore will develop ways and means to counter these difficulties and build a better India,” he contended.

They pitched for improving primary and secondary education in rural areas, building more research centres on topics like tropical diseases, institutes of national importance, promotion of indigenous knowledge and setting up more research centres in rural northeast.

“An affirmative action plan is required not just to draw the brightest minds to science but also to retain them and absorb them. In the absence of opportunities many are now turning their back to S&T,” Bora added.



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