Washington - Indian scientists give high marks to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for bringing about a "sea change" in India's scientific environment and showing grit on issues of importance to them, according to the top US "Science" magazine.
"Despite challenges like India's vaunted bureaucracy, many Indian researchers who studied abroad and opened labs in other countries have begun flocking back home," says the Feb 24 issue of the magazine focusing on the state of "Science in India".
According to award-winning Science writers Richard Stone and Pallava Bagla, "much of this sea change can be attributed to Singh, who is seeking to strengthen scientific disciplines across the board; not just space and nuclear science, which have long enjoyed massive central government support".
Penned by Stone and Bagla the "India Rising" package traces the modern history of science in India, from its first atomic bomb test in 1974 to its current status as a rising scientific powerhouse.
The two crisscrossed India to speak with many of the nation's top scientists. They observed how Indian scientists, after struggling for resources for decades, now enjoy access to state-of-the-art facilities and a windfall of funds.
Manmohan Singh, who vowed last month to more than double the nation's R&D spending to $8 billion a year by 2017, they noted, has launched initiatives to entice overseas scientists to return home, create elite universities, and establish a grants agency modelled after the US National Science Foundation.
In academic circles, Manmohan Singh enjoys a form of street cred, said Science. "He's a scholar, a thinker," Raghunath "Ramesh" Mashelkar, former director general of India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, is quoted as saying.
As finance minister from 1991 to 1996, Manmohan Singh presided over reforms that have transformed India into one of the world's fastest growing economies, the magazine noted.
"Gentle and modest, Singh's soft-spoken demeanour belies the grit he has shown on some issues of importance to scientists," it said. "He staked his government's future on nuclear power when, overriding fierce opposition, he inked a controversial deal with the United States in 2008 that opened India's civilian nuclear industry to the outside world."
"He has struck a cautious stance on genetically modified (GM) foods; in 2009, he did not intervene when his former environment minister rejected a scientific panel's advice and banned commercial planting of GM eggplant, or brinjal, until additional safety trials are completed," the magazine said.
"On balance, Indian scientists give Singh high marks for his tenure as prime minister," Science said noting: "Last month, they elected him general president of the Indian Science Congress Association during its centenary year - the first prime minister to receive that honour."