In order to proclaim Indian Science Congress Association as redundant will require accurately assessing its role in historical perspective by setting certain parameters that, among others, may principally rest on its indirect contributions to science. An academic analysis of the proceedings of its scientific sessions including the inaugural addresses by various luminaries, right from its birth to the just concluded 99th session at Bhubaneshwar will help determine its true character.
Apart from the general impression in the public about its being the largest congregation of Indian scientific community in India, the true face lies hidden under the managerial politics that comes to full play here. Most of its funding comes not from the individual contributors from the sources of the ISCA but from public funds released happily and ritually every year because most top science brass of the country is or has been involved with it. Earlier it used to be a simple affair in which there could be scope for a little serious deliberation but of late it has become an expensive expose of science in India. Most scientific departments are asked to lavishly display their ‘scientific and technological achievements’ through exhibits for which the bills are footed by the scientific departments and Institutions funded by Govt. of India. However, the ISCA is only a forum and the Science Congress its public face held once a year. Without the work generated for holding the Science Congress, we are not aware of any significant contributions of the ISCA in the last 99 years. Moreover, there are various other logical and meaningful forums at which the scientists can publish and display their work. If it were only for a large scale exhibition of scientific and technological work done in India meant to educate public and improve their understanding of science there can hardly be any objection but spending large sums of money collected from hard working Indian people for organizing a gathering or feast for the ‘scientists’ of the country in this ‘Kumbh’ is highly questionable. Not all people that gather in this Kumbh are scientists but the crowd is made up of journos, science writers, science administrators or managers, university teachers and petty staff.
Most of the good work in various streams of science in India can be glimpsed through the archives of various Institutions and departments in India such as Indian National Science Academy (INSA), Indian Institute of Science, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and many other that work under the umbrella of Department of Science and Technology whereas parallel bodies such as two Indian Academy of Sciences (Bangalore and Allahabad) already exist as forums akin to ISCA for taking up similar job. One of these academies at Bangalore has already been publishing Current Science journal since 1932 in which the proceedings or other events and addresses have been regularly covered/reported/published.. The old issues of the Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR), one of the oldest in the world, provides excellent insight into the kind of need-based research that was acclaimed highly relevant for improving the health of the people of India. Blaming Indian scientists for not frequently publishing in Science or Nature, the leading journals of the world of science, cannot a true assessment of the capabilities of Indian scientists and form a view that they have failed to deliver. There are so many complexities that need to be understood before we make derogatory comments about our scientists or the status of science in India.
When the ISCA started representation from the territory that India lost as a result of partition in 1947 used to be there. But the division of the sub-continent robbed the ISCA of any contributions from that side for over 64 years. In fact what we need to do now is to take up propriety audit of the Indian Science Congress, particularly for the 100th year of its unabated continuance, and move towards a more meaningful and crisp scientific event rather than perpetuate the old style of arranging a huge gathering that is difficult to manage. The ISCA should do some real introspection about its past performance and make positive contributions on similar lines as has been evidenced from the meaningful gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). I remember having listened to a comment by late Prof. Autar Singh Paintal, formerly Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) saying that ‘he would like to present his research findings before AAAS rather than the Royal Society of London. Prof. Paintal, a renowned neuro-physiologist, was Fellow of the Royal Society as well as member of the American Association of Physiologists. When I asked why he preferred the first rather than the latter, he answered that it was due to the presence of various Nobel laureates as well as leading physiologists of the world at the gathering who could not only recognize his contribution but also were capable to making valuable comments. Moreover, it was the quality of science and scientists in US which had prompted him to make such remark that could have annoyed the Royal Society. But he did not care. How many of our present day scientists are such bold as he was or how many could attain such remarkable level of research as Prof. Paintal. He also used to make unsavory comments about the Indian Science Congress.