Don’t succumb to prejudice against Bt crops: PM

Jammu, Feb 3: Batting for genetically modified or biotechnology (Bt) crops, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday that India “should not succumb to unscientific prejudices against Bt crops”.

“While safety must be ensured, we should not succumb to unscientific prejudices against Bt crops. Our government remains committed to promoting the use of these new technologies for agricultural development,” Manmohan Singh said, in his inaugural address at the 101st Indian Science Congress here.

He added that the use of biotechnology had great potential to improve yield.

“I urge our scientific community to increase communication and engagement with society in explaining socially productive applications of technology alternatives and for improving the productivity of small and medium enterprises,” he said.

Being organised at the University of Jammu, the five-day event which commenced Feb 3, focuses on the theme of “Innovations in Science and Technology for Inclusive Development”.

Addressing a packed gathering of Nobel laureates, scientists, teachers and students, sitting beneath a canopy on a chilly winter morning, Manmohan Singh announced a new initiative under which eminent scientists abroad will be invited to return and work in India.

“A new initiative is the institution of 25 Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowships, under which eminent scientists anywhere abroad are invited to work in India for 12 months over a three-year period,” he said.

Out of about 200 nominations, the government has selected the first five for fellowships including M. Vidyasagar, computational biologist at the University of Texas; Azim Surani, life scientist at the University of Cambridge and Trevor Charles Platt, geo-scientist at Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

As part of the fellowship, each scientist will be given $100,000 per annum for three years.

In his speech, Manmohan Singh further said that Indian science should be a “driving force propelling India as a resurgent civilisation,” which holds both hope and opportunity for young citizens.

“I worry that science has not yet got its proper due in our value system. I would like science to be high in our value system so that our entire society provides both moral and material support for its development,” he said.

He added that this is necessary not only because future generations depend on it, but also because instilling a scientific attitude and temper is “essential for developing a progressive, rational and humane society”.

“I do hope that our scientists and educators will ponder seriously on how we can achieve this transformation in the midset of our society,” he said.

The prime minister also stressed on increasing the country’s annual expenditure on science and technology.

“We must increase our annual expenditure on science and technology to at least two percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” Manmohan Singh said.

Noting that there was need for a combined effort from government and industry, Manmohan Singh said: “In countries such as South Korea, where a high percentage of GDP goes to science, the contribution of industry is significant.”

Manmohan Singh also announced the National Mission on High Computing with an outlay of Rs 4,500 crore, and said that the government was considering the establishment of a National Geographical Information System with an outlay of about Rs.3,000 crore.

“In the next few years, we will have the largest young population entering higher education. We must find ways of encouraging them to take up the right path that will provide them not only productive employment but also excitement in their profession,” the prime minister said.

“We need to ensure that the best among them take up science, and to do this we must ensure that it is attractive for them to do so,” he said.

IANS