Y S Rajan
This note addresses as to what are the technologies critical for India where major efforts are to be done by Govt. â€“ perhaps in a Public â€“ Private â€“ 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 â€œdabbleâ€ in number of areas of experiments and small scale research â€“ 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v In our country, the outdated science policy pumps money in basic research, on the vague assumption that it leads to innovation and to useful products.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was never true in life (I have a number of authoritative accounts on this and published papers) and is definitely outdated in the modern world.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 â€œa baitâ€ 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 â€œsecurityâ€ given by technologies reside in :
Â· Industries Foreign / Indian
Â· Industrial R&D Companies
Â· R&D Labs
Â· Individual Innovations
Â· Technology Intermediators (Institutional, Individual or Companies)
Â· Technology Commerce
Â· Agricultural fields
Â· User ideas
v Vested interests in the organised S&T systems will resist changes, raise the bogey of â€œsell outâ€ etc. But look at results :
Â¨ How much of defence products or other security products are of real Indian origin
Â¨ Amongst those which are, how reliable they are in field situations ?
Â¨ Atomic Energy : Are we really cost effective in Nuclear power ? Do we have Industrial/Commercial Competitive Capability ?
Â¨ Space : We still depend on all high reliability electronic components including for launching vehicles and missiles â€“ from abroad. Real â€˜soft bellyâ€™ not fault of ISRO. We cannot now achieve it any more without very heavy price â€“ not worth it now. Also look at the loss of business opportunities as space is still not organised as business; as in other countries.
Â¨ 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 ?
Â¨ ICT : Almost all hardware is of foreign origin â€“ 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 â€“ 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 !
Â¨ Therefore the approach should be, wherever we are weak in commercial â€“product supply chain in a mature sector â€“ forget R&D also in that area. Let it be done on commercial considerations. ICT, IT are very good examples.
Â¨ 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.)
Â¨ 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 wonâ€™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 â€œmuck aroundâ€ 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 donâ€™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 -â€“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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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.