India has made rapid progress in the area of science and technology in the recent times, with the focus now shifting from fundamental research to application research. The basic thrust now is to take science and technology from laboratories to solve issues of the society and reinvigorate the scientific temper. Independent India’s looming issue was to catapult the nation on a progressive trajectory, basically on the fundamental requirement of food and national security. Thus, then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave the famous slogan, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”. His successor Atal Behari Vajpayee added “Jai Vigyan” to it. Now, the country has taken it further by adding ‘Jai Anusandhan’, thereby, bringing research in the forefront of national agenda.
The reorganisation of the apex level scientific body, the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council; reflects the national resolve to take India to a pre-eminent position in the emerging and fast changing global science and technology ecosystem. India has set a very ambitious target to be counted in the three top nations in terms of science and technology by 2030– it is not going to be a cakewalk. But given India’s drive, it is not impossible too.
However, except for frugal innovations, development in science has not kept pace with the kind of public commitment it has been receiving in terms of resources. It has tripled in the last decade, measured in terms of Gross Expenditure on R&D. But Indian science community could not come up to the level of leadership given by Sir C.V. Raman, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Srinivasa Ramanujam or Meghnad Saha.
Indian science is now working to solve important challenges in the areas of water, energy, health, environment, climate, agriculture, food, which are the mandate of Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council.
The Council will frame national policies on a mission mode for nine futuristic areas like: Quantum Frontier, Artificial Intelligence, National Biodiversity, Electric Mobility, Bio-science for Human Health, Waste to Health, Deep Ocean Exploration, AGNIi – (Accelerating Growth for New India Innovation). Advancements in these sectors will make the country globally competitive in the rapidly changing world order. The approach has been realigned to have a mix of fundamental science and application science. The mission-oriented plans are illustrative examples of application and solution science initiatives.
Science &Technology intervention in the recent times in Agriculture sector has made huge impact on rural economy, like the agro-meteorological advisories to farmers. The timely weather information has helped in farming activities, resulting in a positive economic impact of Rs. 50,000 crores to national GDP. The quality of weather and ocean forecast services has improved substantially. With India commissioning two new Super Computers –‘Pratyush’ and ‘Mihr’ with a combined capacity of 6.8 Peta Flops, the country has one of the best weather prediction systems in the world.
With India pledging to reduce fossil fuel, the new energy mix includes higher percentage of clean energy. Several technologies have been developed indigenously by our scientific institutions. India’s first biofuel powered aircraft made a historic flight in August 2018 from Dehradun to New Delhi. The Indian Air Force created history by flying an AN-32 transport aircraft on biofuel, during the Republic Day parade this year. The country is now on a project to reduce dependence on imported oil through developing technologies to produce oil from alternative sources like carbon-containing solid wastes, liquid effluents and atmospheric emissions of methane and carbon dioxide, available in abundance for substitution of crude.
In the space sector, India is a global leader. Once a victim of technology denial regime, many nations now depend on India’s expertise in space missions, which are proven and cost-effective. The recent developments in space research and its applications for socially relevant sectors are unmatched in the history of Independent India.
On the whole, science has made a re-entry into our national priorities and with the right kind of focus and directions, the target of making India a leader in the area is not unachievable.
Script: N. Bhadran Nair, Senior Science Commentator