Articles

CRITICAL TECHNOLOGIES FOR INDIA by Y.S.Rajan

Y S Rajan

 

22/11/07

 

This note addresses as to what are the technologies critical for India where major efforts are to be done by Govt. – perhaps in a Public – Private – Partnership (PPP) mode and what may be left to market forces. Briefly the role of Universities, national laboratories and industries are also discussed. Useful for S&T policy planners in Industry and Government and also for those who target technologies for purchase, R&D etc.

v  Indian S&T system as a whole has not performed well in terms of delivery of actual end use, because the resources are frittered away in almost every field.

v  Universities may be allowed in a small scale way to “dabble” in number of areas of experiments and small scale research – but basically to train the students, techniques of different fields. But Universities are starved of funds; big fishes take away the resources.

v  But when it comes to research oriented to product, process and utilisable knowledge, the game plan should be focussed. (a) Strategic vision, (b) Economic calculations and (c) tactical approach to position in the value chain should be key drivers.

v  In our country, the outdated science policy pumps money in basic research, on the vague assumption that it leads to innovation and to useful products. This assumption  was never true in life (I have a number of authoritative accounts on this and published papers) and is definitely outdated in the modern world. Most of what is happening in the world is oriented research. Also we should jettison openly the concept of our R&D self-sufficiency. It should be strategic and tactical to be used as a deterrent or “a bait” in security matters, or commercial deals or in social systems like healthcare.

v  Technology strengths of a country do not reside in its R&D labs that too national labs alone. The technology strengths or “security” given by technologies reside in :

·       Industries    Foreign / Indian

·       Industrial R&D Companies

·       R&D Labs

·       Individual Innovations

·       Technology Intermediators (Institutional, Individual or Companies)

·       Technology Commerce

·       Agricultural fields

·       User ideas

v  Vested interests in the organised S&T systems will resist changes, raise the bogey of “sell out” etc. But look at results :

¨     How much of defence products or other security products are of real Indian origin

¨     Amongst those which are, how reliable they are in field situations ?

¨     Atomic Energy : Are we really cost effective in Nuclear power ? Do we have Industrial/Commercial Competitive Capability ?

¨     Space : We still depend on all high reliability electronic components including for launching vehicles and missiles – from abroad. Real ‘soft belly’ not fault of ISRO. We cannot now achieve it any more without very heavy price – not worth it now. Also look at the loss of business opportunities as space is still not organised as business; as in other countries.

¨     Rest of Industrial R&D : Where is an Indian product in any field, which has made a difference in global terms why even domestic terms ?

¨     ICT : Almost all hardware is of foreign origin – import content very heavy. If one calculates net import in hardware minus export in software, it will be interesting. Is it a net foreign exchange earner ? But still we need to continue our ICT operations – even the way it is. It makes USA and other businesses dependent on India operations. Companies sell hardware to India even high performance computers and software. We need them !

¨     Therefore the approach should be, wherever we are weak in commercial –product supply chain in a mature sector – forget R&D also in that area. Let it be done on commercial considerations. ICT, IT are very good examples.

¨     On Energy & Water two crucial sectors, the totality of approach should be net self-sufficiency. These are two propellers or lynchpins of security of modern societies. (These two are not addressed as technologies here. They are total in themselves deserving special attention.)

¨     Items addressed here are those in which India can get a high degree of capability in select areas so much so that global commerce or global security managers cannot ignore. They will partner with India to obtain the benefits of our special strengths in the total value chain. We will be equal bargainers for getting total system benefit (of course on payment).

Denials won’t operate with equals. These are the areas in which Government focus on R&D support should be. For example, in the area of Oceans which will be a critical area of commerce, security and social well being of the future, do not try to “muck around” with fish, every chemical etc. Open those areas to others or market forces. Enable commercial exploitation by policies (i.e. removing restrictions).

They will decide which chemical can be used for extraction and marketing etc. For India to obtain Global Excellence concentrate on Underwater Robotics. Again don’t make it self-sufficient or a micro demo. Let the system chosen be such that it will be relevant for defence, security surveillance or seabed mining. Robotics also has other applications in Space (moon) and commercial (select elements). This can be a fifteen-year project but with specific target every three years. There could be strategic partners. With such a view goals and targets are given to a few select areas. Rationale to be derived from the long preamble given above.

*   Ocean  (1) : Underwater Robotics systems for a few operations in totality. ~  15 years

*   Space  (2) : While the existing strengths of independent launch, remote sensing, communications to continue -–but as  a commercial mode one specific focus on a few select elements of long duration manned presence (some support systems). Necessarily have to be international cooperative but make a few critical systems which will make us equal. Long duration manned presence in Space in vital for future security (not just surveillance satellites) ( ~  15 years )

*  ICT (3) : While the present commercial operations can continue, focus on a major ICT project which will give a few future commercial systems (also secure systems) Make India an important R&D Centre (a la C-DOT at that time) if necessary with global partners.

*  Sensors  (4) : In future almost any operations in Services, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Healthcare of Security or Education are going to be Sensing (electronic, nose, eyes,etc). We should concentrate on a few basic sensors including combinations of bio, electronics, molecular, nano, visual etc. Sensors – not all but a few items. Can sense terrorists or sensing biowarfare counter actions or conversations etc. Also huge commercial benefits. India should flood the world with sensors as Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan etc flood the world with IC Chips, memories etc (Requires multiple approach of allowing manufacturing units by foreign companies, Indian companies plus R&D Centres).

* Biomedi- cal    Equipment  (5) : Indian Health Care is good. But all equipment are foreign. When Indian healthcare develops and becomes world beater critical equipment could be blocked. Therefore make India the manufacturing base of all critical high end biomedical equipment. (Including neural science based (see linkages with sensors). In almost two to three decades human brain may be implanted and scanned (also manipulated) with micro & nano systems.

Here it is a question of policy to allow many manufacturers even for export (including foreign entities).

*Atomic    Energy (6) : Spin off Power, Medical and other applications to private sector including foreign.

Concentrate on nuclear weapons and very advanced (weapon related) research (see P K Iyengar paper in Current Science) a la USA.

*Life Sciences (7) :

 (a) Dismantle the State controlled research labs or make them extension centres to farmers. Concentrate on a few items relating the security of basic food genotypes so that under natural or artificial calamities food security is not affected.

(b) Concentrate on eradication of communicable diseases – requires govt. actions (also use NIH, USA researches buy patents to do it). This will also lead a way to gain support of less privileged countries.

(c) Neural – brain related developments. For most of the other Industrial/Commercial areas allow foreign/companies to operate in India to gain the biotech/life sciences boom (even for herbal).

 

*

 

NOTE:  For avoiding extreme poverty and to give a decent living to all Indians (i.e. skill giving etc), technologies are useful but not critical to have them. Most of them well known knowledge/skill bases. Therefore, they are not given in this note. They require different customized and local approaches with great care for lowering the costs  and risks to the users, who are low income groups or poor. At the same time, they should not be obsolete and should have about a decade of economic viability by which time they can go up and learn more.

KNOWLEDGE AND IGNORANCE [Power Point presentation]

(PROGRESS OF SCIENCE)

 

1. Most people, I find, especially in India have strange concepts about science and technology (S&T). There are some who think that all evils of modernism have come from S&T, (though often they enjoy the benefits of S&T be it for physical comforts or their own health, wealth etc). There are many others who look at S&T with awe : they think of them almost as magic. What is done by science has to be perfect. There has to be no defect. A top doctor means he should cure every patient. Sometimes we hear of news about mobs breaking hospitals where a political leader is admitted and his/her life is not saved !

2. There are many persons who think that a scientist knows everything perfectly. If one is a “big” scientist, then they expect his/her perfect knowledge in every field. (Many scientists enjoy this ignorance and try to show off their omniscience in every field, get media coverage and also high Govt. positions and patronage !!). But reality is otherwise. Any individual scientist, however, truly great she/he is, is excellent in his/her own narrow disciplines.

Due to growth of science there are thousands of super-specialities within every branch of science and many more develop very rapidly. It is the human collective past and present which advances the knowledge frontiers in science. It is the system of science, which is basically non-hierarchical  and which allows challenges to the existing knowledge bases and therefore opens up new frontiers. Such a process is true of all human equiries when they are not fettered by hierarchies and rigid orthodoxies.

3. The process of expansion or progress of human knowledge (which during the recent centuries is exemplified dramatically by progress of science) is shown in the two figures attached to this short article. First one is titled “Knowledge & Ignorance (Progress of Science”). Let us understand that figures.

4.  When we look at the human beginnings, the forest of ignorance, that is, areas unknown to human beings were very large. Primitive human beings, and later even tribal groups did not know what was Sun or moon and why they come with such regularity. But they started understanding the periods. They understood something about occurrence of rain or food. But they did not know reasons. So about many diseases; death etc. But they also found out which plants to eat, which parts of animals or birds can be eaten. Often in finding these out by practical experimentation, a number of them would have died. But their collective knowledge accumulated. The more they learned, their curiosity grew. They started asking questions about the items they did not know further. This is what is explained in the left side circle of the first figure. The circle is small. But even then forest of ignorance was also very big part of it, going to still larger (equivalent to infinity). Millennia passed by. Especially during the past few centuries human knowledge has expanded a lot.

5. The right side circle is  indeed many thousand times larger than the left hand one. Concentrating on the central circle of these two circles, that is the component of “human knowledge”, indeed of the time of millennia “HUMAN KNOWLEDGE” has grown many many times in size, especially due to scientific methods during the past few centuries. At the present time, it is growing very fast even annually.

6. But what happens to the IGNORANCE? That is what human beings know that they do not know ! If we list all the problems from the front line superspeciality scientists as to what are the still unresolved issues in their fields, they will also equally large – perhaps even larger. Yes, in fact the frontline research topics come from these unresolved questions listed by best of the minds which have detailed knowledge of their superspecialities. This collective ignorance of humanity is the rich field of frontline scientific research and future discoveries. Thus the “Ignorance” of the most knowledgeable person paves way for new knowledge. (Look at history of science in detail. This is the pattern.)

7. Let us now see the second figure. First bullet in the figure expresses what we have explained in the earlier paragraphs. What happens is that most knowledgeable person – physicist, chemist, bioscientist, or economist etc – will not yet understood. If one asks about the safety of an aircraft, she/he will not promise “foolproof” arrangements. She/he can say about probabilities. Similarly she/he (medical person) will not guarantee recovery of a patient admitted; she/he will do the best efforts, consult other specialists if required but will not say, “since you have come to us, don’t worry. Patient will recover fully!” They know the real level of knowledge and the uncertainties (due to not knowing some elements yet – not just at their levels but collective human knowledge at a given period).

8. Scientific (& in fact human) knowledge progresses through this dialectic process – lot of knowledge come in – also comes in new areas of unknown territory – you clear them through individual collective human effort – never knowledge – yet new unknown areas.

9. But unfortunately many persons do not know this. Therefore persons with little knowledge make strong, definitive statements. Many will attack knowledgeable persons. This is taken as “freedom”. Such people (with little knowledge) look so certain and therefore many take them as decisive and clear. Often some scientists succumb to this mode, as they can become instant heroes especially in country like ours where social spaces available are still not many. Therefore, those who desire quick fame (and sometimes money) resort to unscientific methods to create temporary euphoria.

10. After I finished this writing, I came across a quotation from Bertrand Russel :

       â€œThe whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts”.

        How expressive ?

11. So think for yourselves when you hear an assertive statement about a complex problem or a not well understood issue.

 

Y S Rajan

23/12/07 

 

Demographic Dilemma [Power Point presentation]

-  MULTIPLE CONSEQUENCES

 

Y.S. RAJAN     30/01/08

 

1. During the past 5 to 6 years, I had been concentrating on Education in India. Though I was involved in higher education system and Universities right from my ISRO days during mid 1970'’ upto 1988 as Scientific Secretary, ISRO and remote sensing education as a Visiting Professor in Anna University (1984-88) and later through TIFAC 1988 -–2002 for technology transfer, intellectual property rights (IPR’s). I have taught MBA courses in IMI, part lectures in MDI, BITS Pilani etc., real deeper insights with education began around 2000, more – as a personal study. I started realising that space technology and applications as well as technology development in industries including SME’s even for very “ordinary” items like leather, sugar, textiles, waste utilisation etc. (i.e. not the rocket science” !), though very important, cover only  a small part of Indians. I started looking at those who are left out of these activities. Their percentage is several fold larger.

2.  Completion of the major national exercise on Technology Vision 2020 through TIFAC during 1994-1995 especially in areas of Agriculture, Agro Food Processing, Marine Resources & Natural Products etc and subsequent follow up  Vision 2020 projects in Bihar, Uttaranchal, Kancheepuram, Punjab etc started showing me a stark fact that Indian poverty is to a large extent due to non-reaching of simple well known “knowledge & skills” to large majority of Indians.

3.  Exploration of these led to books like “Empowering Indians” by me. (Those who want PDF file of the whole book please write to me). Then I decided to have a direct experience higher education with large scale reach. So I took up the challenging assignment of Punjab Technical University (PTU) – a predominantly affiliating University during 2002. Punjab post 1995 (after about 15 years of troubled period) was trying to catch up in education. (It is now doing very well under the guidance of my illustrious successor Dr S K Salwan). Most colleges were coming up in all parts of rural Punjab. I started seeing different parts of India for comparing with PTU. All States are in a similar situation – some southern states have an advantage of early start of private sector colleges. IIT’s and IIM’s are too miniscule and not even a nano layer in the context of large number of Indians. I understand clearly the big divide in Indians in terms of educational opportunities. These are expressed lucidly in “Choosing Career Paths” (2002) by me. (Pl. ask me for PDF version if you need one).

4. This book ‘Choosing Career Paths” describes India’s educational dilemma. My approach was to help the youth even amidst the existing oppressive divides and insensitive educational systems which put the children and youth to guillotines of  tests and rejections. Among the several talks delivered by me, one crucial one is about the India’s Demographic Dilemma. While most people (especially elites) take pride in India’s 54% youth (under 25 years), I am painfully aware of its fine texture. These are expressed in terms of a set of vu graphs (power point) and brief explanations in the attachment to this note. While talking on it, I elaborate on each of them, interactively with the audience.

5.  In short, the realities of India are as under :

·  Each age cohort in India is about 20 million i.e. one year old is 20 million, 2 year old, 3 year old upto 25 year old, in fact even upto 30 year old is 20 million in each of the age group.

·  This trend will continue for two decades are more, as people are young; infant mortality is coming down fast. (I will come back to the question of number of older people increasing a little later).

·   But if we examine the internal structure of each of the age group, only about 2% of each of 20 million in each age group get professional education which can earn them some money in the “knowledge economy” affected by global trends. Most of the discussions are around the quality of these about 0.4 millions young persons who come to the job market (including export to the world at large !). (Increased liberalisation of higher education, allowing foreign entities etc may create competition and this 2% may become 4% i.e. say 0.8 million. The Central Government and its control institutions UGC, AICTE etc will resist it).

·   Then above this 2%, about 8% persons get ordinary higher education B.A, B.Com etc in English or Indian languages in various subjects, i.e. minimum 3 years of study after 10+2 school pass. These include advanced diplomas as well. This education swells the list of unemployed. Their education is not focussed on economy ! Even then they are better off  than others about whom we will see in a while. (Thus only about (10% of the Indian youth get higher education whereas 40% to 60% persons get higher education in developed countries; even in many developing countries this ratio is above this level of 10%; world average including all of them is about 23% !).

·   Rest of youth are in a bad situation – remedy does not seem to be in right. About 70% of them i.e. 14 million drop out before 5th  or 8th class. About 20% are 10 pass, 10 fail or 11 – 12 pass or fail. All of them are practically “useless” for “knowledge economy” i.e. about 90% i.e. 18 million are not fit for “knowledge economy” or “global economy”. (Not their fault !).

·   Why this higher education is important ? Of all of the Indians employed only 6% are in organised sector ! 94% is in unorganised sector. 50 years ago Indian industry (public and private) used to recruit less than 25% graduates, rest were school drop out and illiterates. Now more than 60% recruits are with higher education qualifications. After 10 years the ratio will be about 80% (higher education) and rest 20% with specialised globally certified skills. So whatever happens, the train of 90% (18 million) unprepared youth (joining the economy every year (assume any age of entry into economy, 15 years, 18 years, 20 years !).

·   I have given some numbers as a projection in 2015 A.D. The collective and cumulative number of these numbers of unprepared adult Indians is large. The “bottom of pyramid” is a sexy slogan, typically coined by the elite led now by Indian diaspora abroad. But the reality is that we have only a tip of pyramid of Indians which is reasonably relevant in the global context; and a small associated crust of Indians are struggling with their higher education to get some crumbs of the globalising economy. Rest of the 90% Indian youth is totally unprepared for no fault of theirs except being born as an Indian !

·  Now coming to the older population those above 60 years of age are about 100 million now. It will increase more in the coming years. Most of the middle plus rich class person  currently about 300 million will swell this rank of old people in coming years. Those who are elites and are from the group of powerful persons, intellectuals etc (i.e. most of those who ccan access some medical facility) would graduate to 80 – 85 years even without new medical breakthroughs. By 2020 the geriatric Indians will be about 250 millions.

CONSEQUENCES

·  The increasing number of input of persons with higher education as the number is about 2 million every year will create an euphoria of great “superpower”. Companies have a huge supply; they can sit at imperial heights, select and choose – condenscendingly say that “quality is bad – we are very selective”. A few persons will go abroad – the number in global terms will be good 200,000 or more each year! So the slogan of  great Indian Human Capital  can opiate the elite and policy makers !

·  But about 18 million each year will become voting adults with  nothing to hope for. (In fact most of them in the age of 13 – 14 years would be doing some odd jobs – struggle for a livelihood, some of them even earlier in their lives. For those who do some schooling their experience of life  from 8 to 13 years would not have been pleasant as the school system would be “telling them day in and day out” that “they are useless” “incapable” “failures” – they went there only to get some food (mid day meal). They are mostly neglected otherwise even by their parents and definitely by the society at large.

·  What will they think of India or its future ? Or about visions of developed India ? Very little. They want to earn some food and help their families. They want to survive. (They may have some dreams which their experience in life kills at a young age !).

· Purely talking in terms of elections, 18 million such persons (men and women) get into the electoral rolls every year. Election gives them a new dignity.  Each of  5 years, their number will be 90 million. Of about 650 million current electorates (of which only 50% vote), this is not a small number. Often swings in elections take places with 2% to 3% of votes. Often these persons will be voting with a vengence. (It will be good to research into this hypothesis). They do not have the memories of the past : the promises of the politicians and their poor delivery.They will take their pick; whosoever is able to capture their emotions. National level broadcasts may not impact them. Their local level experiences will influence them.

· If social scientists do some meticulous research, they may confirm my hypothesis that these persons have been the propelling force of multiple regional parties (even those with 5 – 10 M.P’s or 20 M.L.A’s) and the main reason of coalition politics over the past two decades (and the helplessness of the main “national” parties).

· In the job front, India is being confronted by a huge jobless group – one from the poor quality post 10 + 2 degree holders (higher education groups) and to a large extent from youth migrating to cities with little or no qualifications. Notwithstanding huge hype of skilling Indians, affirmative actions, reservations, etc. bulk of Indian youth have little possibilities of meaningful jobs. IT & Manufacturing sector can generate say jobs of 1.5 millions; let us assume 4 times multiplier unskilled jobs – maid servants, maintenance persons, drivers etc – still what happens to 12 – 13 million each year ? Agriculture is failing and it can survive only when it sheds large number of persons (from current 60% to 20%) from its fold, so that agriculture can give a decent living. (Reason is simple : primary sector agriculture, poultry, animal husbandry, fisheries etc cannot increase productivity beyond a point. Its contribution to GDP can only be maximum of about 20 – 25%. That means number of people in agriculture should be below 25% to have a decent living ! Ruthless market economics demands that value addition alone is paid ! Cumulative value addition is per capita GDP or national GDP !)

· So the crucial question before India is how to take care of the 90% of Indian children who are inadequately or improperly educated to meet the needs of modern economy and they grow up and face the market economy for a job and electoral politics for voting!

·  Another facet of demographic dilemma : Since the elite / intellectual groups will continue to live up to 80 – 85 years, they form the archaeological layer of Indian policy systems. Their deleterious effect is felt in scientific/academic systems already in a major way. That is the major reason young persons don’t go for science. They are being felt in other systems. Most old persons tend to resist changes in policies and procedures – domestic, foreign, military, industrial etc. This is another great danger, India has to guard against.

India’s demographic dilemma has several other facets. It is a rich area of research. And more importantly an area for immediate action to save large number of children being pushed into the “global” “market” economy without equipping them for coping with it.

Y S Rajan

30/01/08

 

 

Postscript 1

I should like to acknowledge the meeting at ICRIER on 29/01/08 with a brilliant presentation made by Mr Sundeep Waslekar. I made my intervention during the discussions. Comments by him, interest shown by Amb. Arundhati Ghose & Dr C Raja Mohan made me write this piece. Though I talk about these, I had not put them as a detailed write up. Even this is too short.

More  on Education etc, may be seen in my website www.ysrajan.com.

 

Postscript 2

All through my life I am more a person of action rather than theorising model builder and / or philosopher. But I look for theories, models and philosophies to guide me. However, I am ready to speculate and hypothesize beyond these models, philosophies etc. In the area of education especially for bottom 90%, I am not a mere spectator or observer. I am trying to do something to influence policies and also to do something concrete on the ground – help form networks which act. One such is Shiksha India (www. eshikshaindia.in & shikshaindia.org). It is not the usual one – child – one – computer utopia (or good marketing technique for computers and software ?). Even one computer in a school can help to have better content of pedagogy accessible – It is on open source – many teachers are contributing to it. Still at best it can cover 20% part of the 90%. What about 70%? As long as 600 million  Indians do not have electricity, it is difficult to reach any modern concepts to them, as CD’s, TV etc. Well education means building capacity to learn new concepts, often obstructions. I welcome others to spread the message to act to help some of these 90% - even if you cover 0.1% each year ! If 900 groups cover 0.1% each year, we would have solved the problem. Remember 0.1% means 20,000 children each year. There is a cumulative to see them through at least for 10 more years ! 

 

MICROSOCIOLOGY AND INSTITUTIONS INSIGHTS FOR CHANGE AGENTS - Y S Rajan

 

I have been fortunate to see the process of building up of great institutions from the beginning stage itself and also be able to play a key role in it.

In my student days, I have read a lot on various subjects. I am not sure whether they gave me any better insight or clarity. May be perhaps they prepared me for life. Many books or speeches address macro issues or abstract thoughts. Role of a leader, role models, character building, patriotism, ideology, etc. They are very attractive to read. But I have found through actual work over a few decades that all these have little relevance.

I am finding similar situation in India even now after over four decades which have past since my college days. Even now we have many panaceas being rolled out :

    ·       Fix a goal and work for it unflinchingly

    ·       Hard work pays in the end

    ·       Any many buzz words like Vision, Innovation, Knowledge, Leadership, Creative thinking, policy framework etc.

Most institutions grow or drift along without being affected by many of these words or speeches. Perhaps they are like sleeping pills to the minds troubled by the fast pace of changes on the one side and the routine processes one faces in day to day life.

I used to share my experiences and the resultant hypotheses with others during such hype-seminars or workshops or even at closed door meetings. One major point I used to emphasise is that changes within institutions or introducing of innovations in products through knowledge sharing/technology transfer etc or launching of creative projects etc., take place at the micro-level of people who populate the institutions. (I use the word institution in a broad context of working systems which have an organically independent existence). It is the “microsociology” of these people, which decide whether the macropolicies or vision statements or reorganisation or restructuring, etc work. One young lady academic strongly suggested to me recently that I should write these ideas down and place them in the public domain. Hence this write up.

Microsociology comprises elements such as:  how people at micro-levels of implementation hit off with each other or how they trust or respect each other, or how much they are committed to try the changes. Such personal relations are very important. Often at the “lower” operating levels there is an utter cynicism about the functioning at the top (this is true of public and private sector) and directions or vision statements from the top. They may applaud or say “yes sir” “yes madam” many times – but in their hearts they are determined not to try.

When I say lower levels, I do not necessarily mean “clerical” or “worker” level. I mean all those who are really left out of real (emphasise real) decision making process. I have many times come across professors of prestigious academic institutions who behave this way. They accept to take projects because the “overall” management or top level wants it so and not taking on projects may put them at a disadvantaged situation. They build up mental alibis to protect them against failures, even before they take up the projects.

The complicated processes especially in public sector adds an additional advantage for them to shift the blame to “somebody out there”.

What I describe here is not necessarily limited to big organisations where there is little contact between the top management and the operating levels. I have noticed them even in small and medium level organisations and industries (public and private).

So far I said more about the failure or non-performance. I have found that even for success and excellent performance such microsociology is crucial. In fact without the right microsociology at the operating levels (be it for project implementation or technology transfer or R&D or new design etc) it is not possible to have success. Often times I have seen that people who do not worry about their own personal rewards, work together to make it happen, despite the troubles of processes of the macro organisational set up. Why does it take place? Charisma of the top boss? Often, not necessarily.

I share with you some of the real life experiences I had in the developed world, India and other developing countries, through which I learnt about the existence of microsociology as an important force.

I had worked with a NASA satellite ATS0F project at a crucial position during 1970-1973. I was placed with the NASA’s Project Office at Goddard Space Flight Centre (which had the key responsibility for the project). I also worked closely with prime contractor who was responsible for overall integration as well as  sub-contractors who developed various sub-systems. We used to go often for reviews. I almost daily read up a few hundred pages of documentation. (I was at that time 26-29 years of age. Before that I had 6 years of experience in ISRO 1964-1970, as a research scholar, development engineer at ISRO in India, where I have felt the forces of microsociology though at that time I did nothypothesise about it. I was good at swimming through, sometimes fight against them ! But at NASA, though there was a microsciology operating at various levels, its impact on the work was much less than what was at ISRO. Now I look back, it is perhaps due to the fact for NASA projects be it at NASA or prime contractor or sub-contractor levels there was a continuous churning of personnel – most people have met each other only at the project and unlikely to continue with each other even for a decade).

Later 1974 – onwards I have worked in India and interfaced with all forms of Indian institutions – laboratories, academic institutions, industries (public sector & private sector), central and State government departments, defence services, industry associations, cooperative societies, farmers’ groups, NGO’s etc. I have seen in all of them the workings of microsociology much more dominating for end-results rather the hypes, promises or written agreements/contracts. Is this particularly an Indian phenomenon? Is this because there is very little of systems and processes geared towards monitoring end-results.

At this point I should add a caveat. I have dealt with projects and actions in the context of some change: R&D, or application of satellite communication or remote sensing as a replacement or supplement to the existing system or transfer a technology or knowledge which was not fully or partially existing with a system, etc. That is, I was involved in projects which involved a change in the existing mode of working: those projects or activities were change agents, either big or small, either incremental or drastic. To have the intelligence agencies within the defence services or central govt.  accept satellite based surveillance systems during the seventies and eighties even for an experimental basis was a change. (Now it is a part of many systems). To make the govt. agencies or private sector who build roads or bridges accept use of FLY ASH as a part of building material during the early nineties was not easy; it was change; they used cement and sand or mud. Now use of fly-ash  has become common place in many agencies. It has become a GREEN business as well !. To introduce newer technologies (not necessarily breakthroughs but those which were used worldwide but not in India)to sugar mills or SME’s was change Or for that matter introducing new processes (albeit simple) with farmers in Bihar, Uttaranchal, Tamil Nadu etc (especially utilising multiple agencies) was a change or make a national laboratories to develop a process or product to meet the specific needs of an industry in a timebound manner was change or working to introduce a MOBILE DIAGNOSTIC UNIT at Uttaranchal giving regular service to people. (Now it is a success working well more than five years serving more than 100,000 persons) etc.

Perhaps for systems where most actions are routine and time-tested like production lines, regular administrative offices etc effect of microsociology on end results may not be high :

What about the post-1995 Indian institutions especially IT companies, KPO’s, BPO’s etc. there are a few crucial differences: Processes to be used by them were well laid out by a foreign customer; the teams were very young and euphoric due to much higher pay packets; also churning of personnel due to new opportunities and fast growth of organisations.

But when Indian companies get into real innovation generated through internal R&D and then transferring them to regular mass production or application, they will face the issues of “microsociology” when they do so.

But again the question as to whether these “microsociology” issues arise for other countries, for such change-inducing projects or activities ?

With my limited experience with international projects (i.e. India – other country joint projects and  I have experienced with many developed and developing countries), I can only infer the following :

In the institutions of the developed world effects of microsociology are much less (for example even those who hate each other manage to work on projects by giving their agreed parts of contributions)

In developing countries, such effects are as marked as in India, in some of them even with worse effects than in India.

Is it because of the fact that personnel in developed countries have seen many changes introduced right from their youth and also because the institutions including their microstructures churn more often than the permanent stable state they acquire in the developing country ? Is it due to the incentive-disincentive mechanisms of their societies? I do not know. I guess both reasons are valid.

If one operates in a developing country, India included, in a project which induces changes, then one has to attend to microsociology of the implementation levels in some detail and keep monitoring them to make it positive.

At a top management levels or policy levels (which have their own microsociology working at very aggressive levels!) there has to be attempt to churn up institutions often. For example Indian S&T institutions, academic institutions etc which are supposed to be pioneering change agents, there has to be drastic reorganisation, by breaking many existing hierarchies (including the hierarchies of those who have “formally” retired but recycled !) and creating more competitive situations. The existing central coordination mechanisms which only strengthen existing hierarchies and thus create more cynicism at the micro-levels, ought to be dispensed with. Central coordination is antithesis to creating competitive situations.

In other words in order to remove the deleterious effects of resistance and cynicism at the operating levels (i.e. microsociology being counterproductive to the stated goals), it is necessary to create more transparent, less hierarchial, competitive organisations. Changes done at the microsociological levels should be visible and seen to be broadly “just” and “fair” and not done to suit some persons at the top.

Yes, the transition will not be easy. But it may be required if Indian institutions and Indians working in India have to be leaders in innovative changes (otherwise Indian and Indians will be followers, as we are today.)

Such changes at the top and operating levels of social service delivery systems which have to be necessarily in the public sector or supported by public sector, for example public health delivery; primary and secondary school teaching; lower level skill education systems etc. are vital as these systems are blocked by toxic microsociology.

Also such changes are required if the economic benefits are to be reached to the poor and socially under privileged groups. Today all these programmes suffer because of various microsociologies at the policy making and implementation levels. Because such changes requiring long term commitments and also results visible only at the long term, require public interventions – “pure market forces” don’t work. Hence, it is necessary that we change the current systems while microsciologies are disoriented or chaotic.

The challenge before India is not Lead India compaigns – but change Indian institutions and change the way the sociologies operate at top and bottom levels in small clusters (i.e. microsociology) with severe disconnects and often chaotic.

Will this be a topic for serious research by Indian social scientists? What I have given is my impressionistic and experiential account. Serious researches may show different facts and may provide better clues to reality.

 

 

Y S Rajan

 

25/1/2008

 

      26/1/2008