The Prime Minister is right when he said that there is a need to focus on developing futuristic solutions in the fields of education, health care, agriculture, defence and cyber technologies.
In an interaction with the heads of over hundred institutes including the IITs and the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), IISERs , Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the” Atmanirbhar Abhiyan” implemented by Government of India should form the basis to achieve the dreams and aspirations of India in the coming 25 years. Prime Minister further said that R&D institutions would be critical to ensure that the upcoming decade is termed “India’s Techade”
A long way to go :
The Prime Minister is right when he said that there is a need to focus on developing futuristic solutions in the fields of education, health care, agriculture, defence and cyber technologies. Obviously, the Prime Minister knows that several other sectors including chemical and allied industries have to expand and improve the performance in quantitative and qualitative level, as the progress in chemical and other industries is a pre condition for development in several other sectors..
The Prime Minister expects much from the innovators, researchers and scientists in India.
However, considering the ground realities, it appears that India still has a long way to go.
Obviously, drastic changes have to be brought about in the mindset of the Indian scientists , technologists and entrepreneurs , apart from the fact that the commitment of those in power and those serving in government machinery at various levels should be significantly improved.
Performance in R & D field
While there are some isolated spectacular achievements in R&D in some sectors, taking a holistic view, the overall achievements in Indian R&D field does not inspire confidence.
R&D activities are taking place in India largely in government owned CSIR labs and universities. The contribution of the private sector in R&D activities is minimal due to whatever reasons.
As a result, the growth of Indian industry now is largely dependent on the level of import of technology from abroad, which happens even from tiny countries like Taiwan, South Korea and Israel.
To achieve Prime Minister’s aspirations for India’s Techade, it is absolutely necessary that an element of dynamism and accountability have to be injected in the Indian R&D institutions and universities. Since the government is spending thousands of crores of rupees year after year in funding research and in maintaining research institutions, the Government of India needs to ensure that the investment is well spent.
Obviously, one solution could be to privatize the CSIR labs and convert them into joint venture between private bodies and the government , that would lead to purposive and target oriented and time bound research activities. Further, international organisations should be encouraged to set up research centres in India , for which India need to proactively modify the patent regulations and policies relating to intellectual property rights . This would go a long way in moving towards Techade India.
“ Meddling environmentalists “
In India, unfortunately, the dividing line between politicians and environmentalists have become too thin. As a result, even some well meaning projects have been stopped by so called environmentalists,due to political reasons and motivated, poorly informed and prejudiced views.
It is a sad fact that the media and politicians do not give credence to the views and opinions of the scientists and researchers in matters relating to science ,technology and ecological issues. The politicians and activists seem to think that they have the “liberty” to over rule the scientists and researchers. The immediate example is the Neutrino project in Tamil Nadu , which has been stranded due to agitation by politicians and environmental activists, who seem to think that they know better than the researchers and scientists even with regard to such advanced technologies. It may be recalled that the views of former President Abdul Kalam , who was a renowned scientist, supporting the Neutrino project was not good enough for the politicians and activists in Tamil Nadu to give up their resistance to the Neutrino project.
Several other poorly informed and prejudiced debates against important projects have resulted in the derailment of the projects , which has been causing enormous harm to the industrial development and scientific advancement in the country.
The grim fact is that the counter productive and motivated environmental campaign have become stumbling block to achieve the Prime Minister’s dream for India’s Techade.
Certainly, Prime Minister has to restore the pride of place for technologists and researchers in the national arena and in the decision making process. In the present vitiated climate in the country, where it appears that politics is the be all and end all of the national activity , ensuring the respect for the researchers and technologists appears to have become a challenging task.
Need consistent and long term government policy :
On many occasions, the project promoters and industrial leaders have found that the frequent change in the policies, tax measures and directives of the government have upset their short term and long term plans , due to lack of consistency in the policy measures of the government.
One immediate example that comes to mind is the retrospective tax, which has made the Vedanta group go to court against the Government of India.
The frequent and sudden changes in the mining laws have also impacted several mineral based industries.
Sugar industry is yet another victim of the government’s whimsical policies with regard to cane pricing , export of sugar etc., which come as a bolt from the blue for the project promoters.
Entrepreneurial dynamism need recognition :
Certainly, there are many project promoters and entrepreneurs in India in multiple fields, who have shown extraordinary level of initiatives that have contributed to the industrial and economic growth of India.
While some entrepreneurs could have indulged in misappropriation on some occasions , they are very few in number and it is extremely counter productive to view all entrepreneurs with suspicion . Some politicians and motivated critics have been creating a bad image about the project promoters as if they are greedy and exploiters and the media give undue publicity to such negative aspersions.
For example, the campaign against the Sterlite Copper unit in Tamil Nadu which has been forced to close down by the Tamil Nadu state government is suspected to be more political than technical. Many believe that Sterlite Copper has been sinned against rather than sinning. While the courts have allowed Sterlite Copper to resume operations after examining the environmental issues and suggesting some remedial measures, the hate campaign against the promoters is so strong and venomous and the state government is refusing to permit the unit to operate. As a result, India has now become a net importer of copper though it was an exporter of copper when Sterilite Copper was in operation. In the process , India is losing foreign exchange worth several thousands crores of rupees.
India’s Techade achievable :
All said and done, the Prime Minister’s aspiration on India’s techade is praiseworthy and achievable. However, this cannot be achieved by tall talk and impressive dreams.
While several measures are required to improve the investment and research climate, the need is that investors and researchers should be given their due place in the country and their true image as contributors for national growth should be protected, so long as they operate within the ambit of the law.
Finally, this article would not be complete without mentioning political corruption at various levels including at ministerial level, which is adversely impacting the growth of the economy and industrial projects.
The Prime Minister should boldly and clearly tell the ministers and bureaucrats, both at the central and state level, that they should stop forthwith the habit of summoning chief executives and top officers of the industrial and commercial organisations for personal appearance at the drop of a hat. Often , such summons are suspected to happen due to the demand for favouritism and bribes by those in power. Many times, the executives feel humiliated at the hands of even petty government officials. The Prime Minister has to condemn such behavior and tell the ministers and bureaucrats that they should exercise their powers within limits of modesty and humility and should not behave like emperors.
While India’s Techade is technically feasible, whether it is achievable in practical terms is a moot question.
The Prime Minister has done well to call upon the scientists and technologists and industrialists to raise up their performance . At the same time, the Prime Minister should also realize that they can raise their performance, only if the ministers and bureaucrats and officials at various levels in the government too raise their standards of performance.
It needs two hands to clap.