The Indian Science Congress Association meets each year in the first week of January to discuss science and scientific research in India with aims to advance and promote it. This month, the 103rd Indian Science Congress annual meeting took place from Sunday 3rd to Thursday 7th January in Mysuru, and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The theme for this year’s event was ‘Science & Technology for Indigenous Development in India’. The event was expected to be attended by more than 15,000 delegates from India and countries around the world. Modi also presented 28 awards including gold medals to Nobel Laureates and awards for young scientists.

More than 500 scientists and experts addressed the congress from universities and other institutions around the world, but predominantly from India. They discussed a wide variety of topics such as safe water and sanitation, nano science, space science, atomic energy and drug development. It was also identified how important it is to support and develop teaching and training in science and technology-related fields, to develop the skills of Indians and get more people into scientific careers. During the event, the Pride of India exhibition was also open for delegates to visit, and cultural events took place in the evening each day.

Modi pledged his faith in science and the scientific community to improve India’s future, stating that the country is “turning to our scientists and innovators to realize our goals of human welfare and economic development” in his inaugural address. He discussed the ways the country has developed in recent years and the major advancements in science and technology that they have already made, and how these have benefited the country and its people. He also discussed his plans for the future of science and technology in India and how it will continue to develop the country and its economy.

When he addressed the congress, PM Modi raised the importance of what he called The Five E’s: “the economy, environment, energy, empathy and equity.” So, his wish is that any scientific or technological work, research and training should aim to be cost effective in order to aid the economy wherever possible and energy efficient to decrease its impact on the environment. Empathy points towards the culture and beliefs of the country, and staying in line with these, and equity must be created to advance developments to improve the welfare and living quality of poorer areas and citizens.

The impact of their country’s usage of energy on the environment is a particular priority of his at the moment after attending talks on climate change in Paris in December 2015, where he announced an alliance with the President of France to boost solar production. So, any developments in science that could aid the energy efficiency of the country was an important point of discussion at this event. He discussed issues such as fossil fuels, clean and renewable energy, climate change and sustainability in his address, also emphasising the importance of oceans to the economy and developing clean energy from this source.

On the topic of the development of India, Modi also discussed urbanisation. He referred to the fact that more than 40% of inhabitants of India live in slums and that more steps must be taken to solve this problem and improve the quality of life for these Indians. Sustainability of cities is an issue at the forefront of this and Modi stressed the importance of utilising scientific tools to improve city planning in the country, whilst also respecting the ecology and heritage of the country and the areas being developed. Modi claimed that by the year 2050, 50% of India’s population will be living in urban areas.

Modi also called upon his traditionalist and spiritualist beliefs in his address, arguing that modern knowledge and techniques should not be the only way to approach science, but that traditional knowledge should also be utilised. He claimed that societies which have adopted practices based on wisdom gathered though the ages “hold the secrets to economic, efficient, and, environment friendly solutions to many of our problems.” Modi also warned that this wisdom could die out if modern science is prioritised over it. In addition to this, he raised the importance of traditional medicine from past ages and ancient practices such as yoga, which Modi practices in his own life. These ancient traditions, he believes, can contribute to the holistic health and well being of the country.

The principles Modi emphasised during his talks at the Annual Indian Science Congress point to his ambitions to continue developing and modernising his country, giving his people a better quality of life and also improving India’s reputation globally. But, whilst doing this he still holds the traditional and spiritual roots of both himself and the country close to him and sees maintaining these principles as important during the development and enhancement of the country’s scientific community.