Money For Mars, Protest And Chaos
By S.G.Vombatkere *
Indian scientists and politicans who encourage space missions and other such hi-tech projects, evidently believe that human scientific curiosity needs to not only be encouraged but encouraged at any cost. Most recently, in a effort to “keep-up-with-the-Joneses”, the Indian scientific-political establishment has made a proposal to send a spaceship to Mars.
According to a Press Information Bureau release dated August 9, 2012, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=8590, the objective of the Mission is “to demonstrate India’s technological capability to reach Martian orbit and [to] pave the way for future scientific exploratory missions”. This at a cost of Rs.450 crores for a start, and clearly planning budget allocations for future explorations. On Independence Day, PM Dr.Manmohan Singh announced that the aim of the space mission is “to collect important scientific information about the Red Planet” http://news.in.msn.com/national/pm-announces-space-mission-to-study-planet-mars.
Economics, according to Lionel Robbins, is “the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between given ends and scarce means which have alternate uses”. The question that comes into focus is whether any scientific study has been conducted (if economics is indeed a science) to ascertain public opinion on the need or necessity of this space mission. Such a study should be done since the money proposed to be spent on exploring Mars, is a scarce resource that has hundreds of alternate, people-oriented uses, especially in present times of extreme economic hardship. The moral-ethical dimensions of spending huge sums of money on esoteric programs should trouble the mind of thinking citizens, especially including the highly qualified personnel in the scientific-political establishment.
It does not call for great intelligence to see that there is a conflict between the hoped-for scientific and intellectual gains of the Mars exploratory mission on the one hand, and the real-time dire requirements of society as a whole but especially its weaker sections, on the other hand. It is facile and morally debilitating to argue that scientific research in the human quest for knowledge cannot be stopped because of on-going problems of food shortage and the objections of bleeding-heart activists. Fact is that people who actually suffer hunger pangs and have no future, have no say in the matter even if they were not totally ignorant that Rs.450 crores (and more in the future) will be spent on exploring Mars, to establish whether or not there was and is, water on that planet. Their emaciated, half-naked frames and hollow stomachs, and their children wailing for food are evidence that the Rs.20 or so that they may manage to glean in a day does not cover even their most basic needs, whatever Mr. Montek Ahluwalia may opine.
State and central governments have repeatedly pleaded lack of funds for food, water, health and school education, as reason to call for private capital in these core welfare areas, and abdicate their primary responsibility towards the people who have placed them in positions of political, economic and administrative power.
The expenditure of public funds for esoteric uses appears to easily pass legislative scrutiny, while the same legislatures condone parsimony when it comes to spending on food, water, health or essential school education even as they generously grant themselves higher pay, pensions, perks and privileges at public cost.
The greatest threat to India's internal security is the heartless economics that has been thrust on the public, starting with the New Economic Policy of 1991. The protests against state and central government programs that are burgeoning all across the country are indicative of public dissatisfaction and anger. Anna Hazare's and yoga guru Ramdev's movements against corruption are merely a small, but highly visible, facet of it.
President Pranab Mukherjee said in his Independence Day speech, “When protest becomes endemic, we're flirting with chaos”. It is well to make some observations on this. One, governments need to understand that protest is not endemic, but clearly epidemic. Two, there is dire need to introspect why protests are epidemic; the elected and bureaucratic executive, the members of legislatures, and the exalted members of the judiciary need to ask themselves whether the less-than-Rs.20-per-day protesting public sees them as having done their public duty for which they receive public money as salary. And three, the chaos referred to is collapse of law and order; it is the frequent and blatant acts of commission and omission by governments and government agencies by themselves violating laws, rules and regulations, that cause many public protests and general public dissent. It is easy to break peaceful protests and crush public dissent using police force, including foisting cases of sedition or war-against-the-state on protestors. But governments need to beware that “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind”.
Would these publicly-empowered worthies care to consider alternatives to spending public money to explore Mars, instead of shamelessly making a splash of it on Independence Day?