Scientists, students, teachers and researchers from across the country are appealing to the government to take adequate steps based on scientific advice supported by data to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.
The appeal comes days ahead of the Indian chapter of March for Science is scheduled to take place on Monday. Since 2017, scientists worldwide have been holding March for Science rallies to promote rationality and scientific temper and to remove the hurdles in the path of the onward march of science and social progress. The Indian scientific community, too, has been holding marches in the first week of August to highlight the problems facing science on Indian soil. These include the abysmally low governmental support for education and scientific research, the concerted propaganda by some powerful groups to propagate unscientific and obscurantist ideas with the support of the ruling dispensation, and the fact that governmental decisions are not guided by evidence-based science.
While this year, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, no major rallies will be conducted, Soumitro Banerjee, one of the organising members, said that in cities where it is now allowed, a congregation of 10-15 from the scientific community may hold rallies. Banerjee is a professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata and the general secretary of Breakthrough Science Society (BSS), a voluntary organisation working towards the cause of science, culture and scientific outlook.
Last year, scientists associated with the India March for Science had suggested concrete measures to tackle the pandemic in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“However, the government has chosen to ignore this evidence-based scientific advice, precipitating a disaster when the second wave struck. While doctors, nurses and other health workers struggled valiantly to treat COVID patients handicapped by hopelessly inadequate healthcare infrastructure conditions, unscrupulous people were busy peddling untested concoctions as remedies for COVID, often with government support,” said the scientists in a statement.
The Indian scientific community has prepared a charter of appeals for the state as well as central governments. These include a demand for putting a stop to the propagation of unscientific, obscurantist ideas, ensuring that the education system does not impart ideas that are not based on or contradict scientific evidence, allocating at least 10% of the Central Budget and 30% of State budgets to education and ensuring that at least 3% of the country’s GDP is used to support scientific and technological research. Another demand is to increase the financial support to scientific institutions and increase the fellowship tenure of PhD students by the period lost to the pandemic.
“The charter of demand has been prepared in discussion with members of the scientific community across the country. A few programmes have been planned as part of the march. Thereafter, the appeal will be sent to the central and state governments,” Banerjee said.