In a first, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today chaired a panel discussion of eminent scientists where he asked them to collectively ensure that science-led innovation would pave the way for the rise of India.
Initiating the discussion on 'Science for Shaping the Future of India', he also asked scientists to take up the task of inculcating rational thinking among the ordinary people.
"The scientific community will also need to introspect whether our society is geared to making full use of the offerings of science," he told the panel comprising Principal Scientific Adviser R Chidambaram, eminent agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan and Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington.
Observing that every generation of scientists in every country has fought existing prejudices and convictions, Singh said, "Inculcating rational thinking among the ordinary people is a task that scientists, from their vantage point, should take upon themselves as a sacred mission."
He said the accretion of knowledge had accelerated in recent times throwing up exciting possibilities.
"This has also opened up the question of whether our existing scientific paradigms are adequate to meet the challenges of future or whether we need new paradigms."
Singh said scientists need to be visionaries and offer tomorrow's solution to tomorrow's challenges.
"How do we manage the resource needs of the projected population of the world in 2035? How do we meet the needs of food and nutrition, energy and environment, water and sanitation and affordable healthcare? These are among the big questions that the scientists should apply themselves to," Singh said.
Participating in the discussion, Swaminathan said there was a growing degree of divergence between public perception and science.
He citied the recent controversies over genetically- modified organisms and the agitation over safety aspects of nuclear power, particularly in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident.
"It is very important to bridge the growing gap of perception between science and the society," he said.
Swaminathan referred to a committee on public understanding of science of the Royal Society of London that encourages scientists to take up public outreach activities about their research.
Beddington cautioned that the future, unlike the past, would pose enormous problems for fuel and water security, agriculture production as farmers would not be able to rely solely on weather patterns.
"We have to be thinking about meeting these challenges," he said.
Chidambaram made a strong pitch for participation of Indian scientists in mega-science projects and called for greater investments in establishing research facilities.
He also wanted a stronger interface between the academic institutions and the industry.
Chidambaram, a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, also reiterated the need for nuclear power to meet the growing energy needs of the country.
Science and Technology Minister S Jaipal Reddy wanted the scientists to develop solutions to the problems faced by the poor of the country.
He said innovation should focus on cheap and practical solutions which were appropriate for India's needs.