Saturday, March 16, 2013

Moving Ahead with Science Popularisation Movement

THE 14th All India Peoples Science Congress of the All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN) concluded in Lucknow in an exciting and productive mood. The biannual event of the AIPSN, organised for the first time in Uttar Pradesh, was held at Gandhi Bhavan Campus from February 25 to 28, 2013. The event was attended by more than 500 activists of the people’s science movement (PSM). Activists, who are active as volunteers all over the country in the sphere of education and literacy, science communication, gender empowerment, rural development, agriculture, environment and climate change, participated in the congress to review and decide on the way forward in their own above mentioned respective areas of work.


Out of the 35 constituent member organisations from 20 states of India, 32 organisations sent their delegates to the Lucknow event, creating an atmosphere for warm interaction. More than 20 per cent of the participants were women. Working scientists who participated both as resource persons and delegates in the congress were about 20 per cent while another 30 per cent were college and school teachers. Research institutions and universities in and around Lucknow and in various parts of the country extended their support to the congress by facilitating the participation of experts on their rolls. The congress was organised as a self-supported event. Most of the expenses were met by the participants and constituent organisations. The arrangements for local hospitality were made with the help of resources mobilised from the public by the Uttar Pradesh Gyan Vigyan Samiti.

The congress was divided into five parts: 1. AIPSN General Council meeting, 2. Inaugural session, 3. Seminar on development of Uttar Pradesh, 4. Academic sessions and 5. Valedictory.

The General Council met on February 25 forenoon with D Raghunandan, president of the AIPSN, presiding over the proceedings. T Gangadharan, general secretary, presented the biannual report of activities and T P Kunhikannan, treasurer, presented the accounts and audit report. The council elected a 26 member executive committee. Election of D Raghunandan as president, T Gangadharan as general secretary and C Ramakrishnan as treasurer was confirmed.

M Vijayan, former director of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, inaugurated the congress as chief guest, delivering a lecture on the theme of development of science post-independence in India. The inaugural session was attended by a large assembly of public. Ms Subhashini Ali, former MP, spoke of the need to galavanise the PSM activists to counter the religious fundamentalist groups active all over the country. D Raghunandan spoke on the PSM perspective. T Gangadharan presented the present status of PSM organisation. The book entitled An Appropriate Energy Mix for India, published by Paschim Bengal Vigyan Manch as a compilation of papers presented in the national energy workshop organised at Kolkata, was released by by the chief guest giving a copy to M P Parmeshwaran.


A seminar on development of Uttar Pradesh followed immediately after the inaugural session, with Ms Subhashini Ali chairing the proceedings. Experts from different fields presented papers on different aspects of UP’s development. They included Muhammed Muzamil (VC of Ruhelkhand University), Pradeep Bhargava (GSSI, Allahabad), Dr Raj Kumar (director, AIIMS, Rishikesh), Prof Kameshwar Chaudhari (dean, Department of Social Sciences, Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Central University),  Dr Rana Pratap (dean, Department of Environment, Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Central University), Dr D K Sahu (Lucknow University), Dr Vandana Misra and Dr Namita Singh (writer and president of BGVS UP).

The papers analysed the status of development in various sectors of Uttar Pradesh, identified the issues and constraints, and suggested strategies for future actions. Subhashini Ali pointed out that in UP we are lagging behind in almost all the important social indicators. The Human Development Report (HDR) of UP has not been published for three years. After 1989, caste and religion politics has been on the rise. Demands for the state’s development are visible but in the era of identity politics, the mass is divided on caste and religious lines and not coming together on larger issues of development and this is the main reason behind stagnation. We cannot compare UP with even Tripura on any indicator; the problem is of the kind of politics in UP. D K Sahu pointed out that the movements in UP are not about protest for restructuring of the system; however the youth of UP is ready to help and we require political will and a roadmap. Kameshwar Chaudhari did not think that caste politics per se needs to be held responsible for stagnation. His argument was that caste politics started in southern states in the British era but caste mobilisation did not impede the development process of these states; caste politics is known to have played a positive role in these states in the overall distribution of gains from development. Previously in UP the dominant class was composed of the upper castes; now the dominant class is more heterogenic.

Vandana Mishra was of the view that polarisation of religions is more of a problem for Indian society, noting that though identity politics is inevitable in Indian society, it is also due to the failure of our general practice of politics. However, if in UP we don't have so far a crisis of agriculture in the acute form when developed agricultural regions of India are in debt, then the issue of UP’s development also needs to be viewed from the central government politics of industrial investment and investment in education and health. Rana Pratap asked the participants to pay attention to eco-friendly and economical alternatives in agriculture to deal with the adverse impacts of green revolution such as mono-crop culture, more consumption of water, pesticides, water pollution, soil salinity, decreasing water tables and now decreasing productivity. We need sustainable agriculture. Ecological and organic agriculture, drip irrigation, bio-pesticides are the solutions. Productivity, soil development, independence of marginal farmers and their connectivity with the emerging market arrangements are quite critical to the achievement of success in organic agriculture.

Dr Namita Singh pointed out that while we had a very dynamic discussion on the problems of UP’s development and the important aspects of politics using caste based mobilisation, it should not be forgotten that UP is one of the richest Indian states in culture. UP has been the birthplace of a composite culture but unfortunately all our cultural places are now places of caste conflicts. A more suppressed section of society is women. Particularly western UP is witnessing honour killings. Addressing all such issues is an equally big challenge for the PSM. We can reach to masses only through mass literature, art forms and in their own dialect. We can reach through book only. So we need lot of books to reach masses.

The session concluded with the desire that these presentations must be elaborated in future. UP BGVS was urged to develop a document out of these deliberations, with the support of various faculties of universities and research institutions.


Day 2 and Day 3 of the congress were earmarked for academic programmes. The focus of congress discussions was on the task of forging a PSM vision on the emerging challenges of development for India. Presentations by subject experts and field activists were arranged and discussed in the eight sub-sessions. Presentations on PSM positions and that of experts were done in sub-plenary conferences of 250 participants and presentations by field activists on their experiences and case studies were arranged in small workshops of 40-50 delegates. Four sub-plenary conferences and 10 workshops were planned for each day. In the two day spectrum, there were eight sub-plenary conferences and 19 workshops. In total, there were 23 presentations in sub-plenary conferences and more than 120 presentations in the form of case studies or experiences in various workshops. These were in eight subject areas: Science popularisation, agriculture, education, health, environment and climate change, gender and socially excluded, rural livelihood and new technologies and challenges. Each workshop continued for four hours, providing sufficient time for discussions for the participants towards a vision on each sector. Lot of ideas came up and will be consolidated in the form of a document, to be used as a tool for further discussions and dialogues at the state and lower levels.

On February 26, the first sub-plenary was on gender and social exclusion. Asha Misra was the convener and there were five speakers: Komal Sreevastava (AIPSN), K R Venugopal (JVV), Jagmati Sangwan (AIDWA), Vineeta Bal (National Institute of Immunology and DSF) and Alex George from New Delhi. They gave an overview of issues visible in gender and sections of socially excluded such as problems of tribals, sex selective practices in health, education of the excluded communities etc so as to provide a sound base for the discussions to take place in the workshops. A book Sampradayik Dango Ka Sach (The Truth of Communal Riots), published by BGVS, was released in this session which took place in the main auditorium of Gandhi Bhavan.

The second sub-plenary on agriculture and food security, held at Karan Bhai auditorium, was chaired by R Gopichandran, director of Vigyan Prasar, and facilitated by Dinesh Abrol. Other speakers were Ramanjeyalu from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, AP, P V Satheesh from Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad and T P Raghunath from CERD Pondicherry. Ramanjeyalu presented a critical assessment of the pre and post-green revolution scenarios and the currently evolving issues in Agriculture. Satheesh spoke mainly on issues of food security and the need of social justice in this area. He pleaded for democratisation of research initiatives related to food security. Raghunath spoke on concepts of bio farmland and water management initiatives, and the experiences of Pondicherry in this regard. Dr Gopichadran put a thrust on taking new ideas generated by researches, to the people.

The sub-plenary on Health was facilitated by Amit Sengupta of Delhi Science Forum. His introductory remarks focussed on the impacts of the system restructuring of the GOI in health sector and increasing drug price. Elite healthcare systems are given more importance and medicare expenses are skyrocketing. There were three speakers: T Sunder Raman (director NHSRC), Suresh from Jana Vijnana Vedika and Satyajit Rath from National Institute of Immunology. Sunder Raman spoke on the ongoing policy changes taking place in health sector and the resultant opportunities for interventions by PSM. Suresh presented the case study of implementation of Arogyasree project in Andhra Pradesh to bring out the element of corruption and how the PSMs will have to intervene to deal with corruption based on the experience of their own state. Satyajit Rath discussed the impact of biotechnology in contemporary medical care system.

The fourth sub-plenary was on environment, energy, extraction industry and climate change. T Jayaraman and Tejal Kanitkar from TISS, Mumbai and M P Parameswaran from KSSP were speakers. D Raghunandan from DSF facilitated the session. T  Jayaraman spoke about India’s climate policies after Durban conference. He termed the approach as “having an agreement without knowing the content of the agreement.” Tejal Kanitkar spoke on the right to energy, describing the trends in Indian power scenario for the last 15 years. She amply quoted the deliberations in the AIPSN workshop on energy mix for India, held in Kolkata recently and said that the possible target for India will be 2000 kwh per year per person. M P Parameswaran spoke on the challenge of adaptation and mitigation of climate change at community level, using large plantations of fruit-bearing trees for carbon sequestration and food security. He also emphasised that nuclear power is not a good option for India. Raghunandan said that in the ongoing discourses, question raised is not of development versus environment, but of development and environment. We need the right development where both environment and equity are ensured.


Following the sub-plenary conferences, where conceptual variants triggered debates, ten workshops took place --- four on gender and social exclusion, two on health, two on agriculture and two on environment. The total number of case studies and experiences shared in these workshops came to around 60. They illustrated a lot of field level experiences of positive interventions which are indicative for future actions. In all the workshops activists provided to the participants a lot of insights on how people’s fight is going on in the grass root level. Studies on health expenditure were placed for discussion in the workshop on access to medicine. Few field experiences of utmost importance namely non-pesticide management and Biofarm were discussed in the workshops on agriculture. The general trend was found to be favouring a concerted effort on sustainable agriculture.

Sub-plenary conferences on February 27 were on rural livelihood, education, science popularisation and new technologies and challenges. Session on rural livelihood was facilitated by T P Raghunath. Speakers were Sarada Muraleedharan (director, National Rural Livelihood Mission), Dinesh Abrol (Delhi Science Forum) and D Raghunandan (CTD Delhi). T P Raghunath, as facilitator, initiated his session by pointing out the peculiarities of India’s rural livelihood systems, in which the dependence continues to be predominantly on agriculture. Noting that livelihood potential in agriculture is on decline and allied sectors are getting to be more important. Ms Sarada Muraleedharan spoke on the subject of “Women in Livelihood: The Dynamics of Space.” Starting from the present functioning of NRLM, she detailed the unique experience of Kudumbasree in Kerala, where more than half of the families in the state are brought in the network for poverty reduction and livelihood improvement. Closely integrated with LSGIs, Kudumbasree has become an outstanding movement of empowerment of women, though with many problems yet to be resolved. D Raghunandan spoke about technology based livelihood. He reminded that not only rural non-farm sector should be the main forward looking avenue for India the challenge of technology upgradation is becoming quite important. We will have to ensure quality and standards. We are intervening in unorganised sector where countries like China intervene well organised. Dinesh Abrol spoke about the narrowing role of the state in ensuring livelihood and the way forward. He observed that the concurrent development in livelihood is visible in trading and finance and other service sectors and not much in productive sectors. Skill development is becoming a corporate agenda conceived in PPP mode. He was also of the view that agriculture has much potential to absorb surplus labour if the peasantry is made to adopt ecological farming and from the rural non-farm sector will also gain better in respect of the linkage effects.

The session on Education was facilitated by C P Narayanan, a member of parliament and of KSSP, and coordinated by C Ramakrishnan and Asha Misra. The theme paper was presented by Vinod Raina and responded by three speakers, M P Parameswaran from KSSP, Kamala Menon from DSF and Subimal Sen of PBVM and former vice chair of Higher Education Council of West Bengal. Vinod Raina, in his theme paper, covered the overall scenario of education in India, emerging issues and potentials. Even though the GOI is enacting new laws and trying to build up new systems, there is no interest in the government to implement these systems with an appropriate spirit. Noting that the fund allocated for education is not sufficiently expended he called for the PSM to mobilise the people and deal with the challenge of lack of creative ideas on how to go about the implementation of new systems. Subimal Sen spoke regarding the policy changes occurring in higher education and how it is going to commodify higher education in our country. Higher education is missing a vision for tomorrow. M P Parameswaran opined that along with raising criticisms, we have to try to create functional models to intervene. He underlined the need of transforming the teacher community as a strategy for a long lasting intervention in school education. Kamala Menon also emphasized on the need for PSM interventions in education.


S Chatterjee from Karnataka BGVS and a scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, chaired the session on Science Popularisation and Prajwal Shastri of the same institute coordinated the discussion. S Chatterjee observed that science popularisation activity was the gateway to scientific rationale. He pointed out how PSMs have been using this potential and what are the future prospects. There were three speakers: T V Venkateswaran of Vigyan Prasar, T Jayaraman from TISS and Amitab Pandey, amateur astronomer and activist from Delhi. Jayaraman’s presentation had its focus on different limitations faced by science communication activists in the era of global warming. Many aspects are uncertain and objectivity is at a risk, related to predictions and projections. Venkateswaran’s attempt was to place a communication model for India, given the current unscientific practices in the media world. Prajwal Shastri presented her views on how a better understanding of the universe will facilitate to strengthen rationality in society.

The eighth sub-plenary conference was on new technologies and challenges, facilitated by Prabir Purkayastha of Delhi Science Forum. The other two speakers were Satyajit Rath from National Institute of Immunology and DSF and Debesh Das, former minister of information technology, West Bengal. Rath presented his views on biotechnology with special reference to genome technology. Nature and nurture of technologies were the key words in his presentation to denote hereditary and created aspects. Platform technologies are used to manage the enormous amount of data. He also discussed the impact of genome technology in pathology and pharmacology. Debesh Das spoke on information and communication technologies, giving a comprehensive picture on the use of ICT in India and establishing how India is lagging behind in mastering technologies with a vision, while it is believed to be the leader in software development. He predicted that the present status of India in ICT would not continue as we are not in a controlling position in the manufacturing of electronic components used in ICT hardware. Purkayastha cautioned against the challenges posed by strategic technologies like biotechnology and information technology. Influence of internet and mobile communication is increasing very fast. It also brings the thinking that individual interventions are most important and thus negates or reduces the importance of collective actions. They have become disruptive technologies. We need not reject them but should try to overcome the disruptive impacts and try to use them more effectively.

In the afternoon, there were eight workshops to elaborate the discussions in the sub-plenaries. A total 53 case studies were presented in these workshops which provided ample scope for discussion (rural livelihood-12, education-30, science popularisation-10, new technologies and challenges-1). The workshop on literacy and continuing education was very rich in case studies from various states. In science popularisation workshop, various issues faced by the activists involved in science popularisation activities were discussed along with few exciting experiences like that of Amitab Pandey. In the workshop on new technologies, even though participants were less, a hot debate on the approach to GM crops made it more live.


The concluding session of the congress started on February 28, chaired by D Raghunandan. Avanish Avasthi, principal Secretary of science and technology, addressed the delegates. He recalled the contributions made by PSMs in literacy, education and science popularisation in UP and other parts of the country and felicitated its attempts to intervene in the development of UP. Session coordinators of each sub-congress were asked to place a brief summary of the discussions along with the major recommendations made by the participants.

Thereafter, T Gangadharan placed a panel for new executive committee of AIPSN, which was unanimously accepted, and the new EC members were introduced to the audience. The general secretary placed before the body some important programmes for future actions, which included:   
  • PSM schools at regional and state level
  • Strengthening of regional organisation structure
  • Continuing the ongoing campaigns on RTE, climate change etc
  • A campaign on astronomy using the opportunity of the visit of  ISON comet
  • International year of crystallography, year of mathematics of planet earth
  • Experience sharing workshops, miracle exposure, SHG etc
  • Book publication on pre-publication system.

The venue of the next AIPSC could not be declared as there were three requests. The general secretary said the venue would be decided by the EC in due course. Members of the local organising committee were introduced by Sanjeev Sinha, its convener, and the tentative income and expenditure details of the AIPSC were presented by Tejram Bharati, convener of finance committee. This was recognised as a good practice which should be followed in future also. The AIPSC souvenir was released by Veena Gupta. The new president and general secretary addressed the gathering, as part of their assuming the new responsibility. The 14th AIPSC concluded in a festive mood with enchanting musical presentations by teams from different states.

T Gangadharan People's Democracy 10 March 2013

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