Dr. RAMHARI ARYAL has served as the first secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology for two years. A Ph.D in population, Aryal devoted most of his time to strengthen the institutional setup of the ministry. He pleaded Nepal’s case before several organizations, including the International Atomic Energy Association. Dr. Aryal recently spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on science and technology policies and related issues. Excerpts of his interview complied by MANISH GAUTAM:
What is the Ministry Of Science and Technology (MoST) for?
Science and technology are indispensable means to a nation’s development. Every developed nation’s secret is science and technology. Realizing this, the Ministry Of Science and Technology was established in Nepal in 2053 B.S. The irony is we don’t value it enough. The MoST is under the shadow of priorities. Everybody should offer help to realize the potential of science and technology to contribute in the development of the nation.
What programs are the MoST favourites?
To promote science and technology, MoST has already organized a number of discussion programs with Nepalese scientists. It has also formed a think tank comprising scientists and people involved in this sector. Likewise, we have also felt a need for a new policy on science and technology. We have already sent a modified policy to the cabinet for its approval. I'm hopeful that the cabinet will endorse it. This policy covers ways to develop the field of science and technology, how to stop the "brain drain" and use the human resource back in nation's development.
After Japan's recent earthquake there has been a renewed debate in the field of atomic energy. In this context, where does Nepal stand, in relation to the IAEA?
The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association) is an international organization of UN system which looks after nuclear technology. It has 151 members, and Nepal is one of them. IAEA facilitates its member countries on the issues related to nuclear technology and also gives professional and technical trainings. Being a member of IAEA, we get various kinds of help from it. We have different projects in the pipeline. We are also discussing with them regarding how Nepal can benefit from the nuclear technology. I don't mean we will go for nuclear power. But nuclear technology can support other sectors like water resources, agriculture and so on.
Globally, Science and Technology receive the top priority. How long do we have to wait to do the same?
Priority in our nation's context means political priority. We need political orientation. Recently, we conducted programs involving the C.A. members. I am happy to know that many members showed interest in this field. After these programs, many of the members have started realizing the value of science and technology. Indeed, if we can create awareness about science and technology as the backbone of the nation's development, it can unleash the nation's potential with the involvement of youths. This also helps to make science and technology as the nation's priority.
How resourceful is the MoST?
The important thing is we have limited resources for development of science and technology in Nepal. Take for instance, Research and Development done by the MoST is lagging behind due to resources. If resources are increased and staffers are trained in accordance with the need of the country, we can work smoothly and bring results.
What do we need to encourage?
Research based policy has to be encouraged. The recent policy is based on older technologies and it lacks innovation. We need an innovative policy on science and technology. Until and unless innovative policy is made, development of any nation remains a dream. We take policy making for granted and don’t work hard on it. However, if an innovative policy seeks a little more amount than the past one, we should not hesitate investing in it.
What should Nepal learn from the world?
We are witnessing a rapid economic growth, even in our neighboring countries. This is happening due to the use of science and technology. It is unfortunate that we are unable to benefit from the progress made by our neighbors. Internally, we are unable to do any research. It's our nation's tragedy. But it's not a tough task if we work wholeheartedly. Once again the key stakeholders are the politicians who can play an important role.
We are hearing about a growing number of cyber related crimes and misuses of internet. Is our ministry aware of this?
Look, IT (Information Technology) has provided millions of job opportunities throughout the globe. Similarly, it has drastically transformed our day to day life. The government has laws and regulations to deal with misuse of cyberspace. In case of internet crimes, we have Cyber Governance Act which states that such crimes will be stopped. But internet is for ‘seeing’. Even if your son browses around his monitor, you cannot guess what he is doing. So, the main point is how much freedom should be allowed and how much not. But if its use disturbs the harmony of the society then we have to check it.
How much will be too much for the government to tolerate?
If one gets information from around the globe and sees it and learns from it, we have to leave him alone. If information and technology are misused to disturb the society and damage individual relations, we have to act, to regulate it. Good and bad exist everywhere. Being a human it's our duty to take the good part of things. We need to orient our children accordingly. But if one is apt to the bad part then it becomes rampant. Even the developed nations are facing the problems.
What is the thrust of IT?
IT must be guided by "unreached to reach", meaning everyone should have an access to it. Even the Civil Service examination should include IT. But the present load shedding has hampered the IT field. Another part is very few people have access to it.
Where does the Ministry of Science and Technology fit in, in case of Alternative Energy?
It's not the question of where. Alternative energy has to be and was in direct relation with MOST for long time. After the Ministry of Environment was separated, the alternative energy was taken away from us. Had it been with us, we would produce better results. The whole country has been facing load-shedding and it will last for many years to come. In this context, alternative energy is cardinal. We need to go for various forms of energy. AE becomes viable and solar is the most important. Our country is not like Europe where the clouds hang around all the time. Hence, solar energy has to be promoted aggressively. Despite the potential for micro-hydro, we have not done much work. We have so much potentiality in AE and even donors are showing interest in it. We need to encourage it.
You lament that your ministry has not been accorded due priority. But what have you been doing to give the MoST what it deserves?
In order to strengthen this ministry, we have put forth some innovative programs such as biotechnology. Though the human population throughout the world is thriving, productive land is depleting. Then how can we supply to meet the demand of food and other materials to the population? Therefore if biotechnology is developed then with the limited producers more production can be done. Hence, we have focused our work on such things and have also aimed to establish a biotechnology center.
What about space programs?
We need to develop space technology for the overall development of the country. Looking at its importance, we have established an information center regarding the events done in space and other valuable information.
Nepal has been using the nuclear technology in the country for a long time and there is a nuclear wastage.
How do you look at it?
We are also studying about applying the nuclear technology in development and its establishment in Nepal. Most of the cancer hospitals have to work with radiations. But, where the disposable sources of radiation can be kept and what its demerits are, we don’t know. We don’t have a regulatory authority regarding the import and export of radioactive sources and its disposal. Thus we are advocating for a nuclear law and its active functioning. We have even proposed in the parliament to be the member of ICGEB (International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology). We are in the process of revising the IT policy of Nepal which was dormant since its making in 2057.
What other initiatives are you taking?
We have done an MOU with Kyushu University, Japan, for the development of biotechnology in Nepal. We are working tirelessly for increasing our relations with the US energy department. And if we are committed to what we want do then we will have sufficient donors knocking our doors, but the problem is we don’t devote ourselves much.