Power Politics ( Delhi) December 2013
On 5 November 2013, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).
The poverty argument
The Times, London, noted the event by launching a virulent attack on India for its split personality. One third of Indian population has no access to a private lavatory. As many as 1.7 million Indian children die due to preventable diseases. Of those who survive, half suffer from malnutrition. Such a country, noted the London paper, has no right to squander money on such luxuries as space programme; it should rather utilize its resources in removing poverty and deprivation. The sentiments expressed are unexceptional. They would have more convincing if there was a consistency in the criticism of India’s profligacy.
I do not think The Times ever wrote an editorial criticizing Indian middle class’s lust for consumerism, or India’s squandering of its limited resources on such ecologically harmful items as motor cars. Since such expenditures are good for the Western economy, they are welcome. But whenever India achieves anything of strategic or geo-political significance, poverty argument is thrown at its face. It is nobody’s point that India should keep a very substantial part of its large population in extreme poverty. It is also conceded that the efforts which India should be making in this direction are not being made.
The amount of money being spent on prestige-oriented projects is a very small fraction of Indian GDP which does not come in the way of poverty alleviation. If India should drastically improve its education system, school upwards, pay attention to agricultural and industrial production, base its economy on science rather than services, and integrate prestige-building, technology-based programmes into the economy.poverty is not being removed, it is not because money is being transferred to the space programme but because there is no collective political will to do so.
The Mars Mission has cost Indian exchequer no more than $75 million. How small the amount is can be seen from the fact that in the fiscal year 2011- 12, India spent as much as $ 519 million on cosmetics and toiletries and related items such as essential oils.
It is conceded by everybody that Indian space programme is exceedingly good value for money. If the Indian space programme falters in the future, it will not be because of shortage of money but because of paucity of manpower. India created ISRO on the lines of NASA, but it did not create anything on the lines of the US National Defence Education Act.
Regrettably, in recent years, the Indian state has used globalization as an excuse to abdicate its responsibility in the vital area of education, including science education.
India should drastically improve its education system, school upwards, pay attention to agricultural and industrial production, base its economy on science rather than services, and integrate prestige-building, technology-based programmes into the economy. Such programmes should not be an artificially created oasis in the midst of a vast desert, but part of a large landscape.
For full text see