Twenty First Century Mission : Living with Nature in the Modern Form TECHNOLOGY for CONSERVATION, DIVERSIFICATION and GROWTH 


Appeared in KISAN WORLD June 2011 Vol 38 No.6 



 As long as we self – produce and consume, we have very little to worry about quality. Amongst our ancestors, the early food gatherers belonged to this category. But when the specialisation in production and division of labour began in human societies which adopted agriculture about 10,000 years ago, human transactions became complex. Producers and consumers were different. In the early societies, mostly all were producers of some or other products and there was barter deals. There was a mutual confidence between them about the products they exchanged.

When societies grew larger and more complex, producers and consumers did not see each other and often did not know each other as well. It is the trading community which was the channel of ‘communication’. Even in those times, there were many forms of products differentiation and competition. The quality assurance was through the traders and through the sources (some forms of geographic indicators of origin) ranging from Chettinad chicken to Aligarh bocks hotel or Kancheepuram sarees. Many fruits, vegetables, and artisanal products carry their brands of quality through the geography, names of producers etc. Even in services like music such sharp differentiations occurred.

In the modern industrial world it is not just adequate to know the origin and the names of producers. No doubt even now such brands are very important Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) through Geographic Indicators (GI) and Trade marks and Brand Logos. But these are limited to a relatively a small percentage of producers who often get a much better price for the confidence they provide to their consumers for the consistency of their qualities.

But there are many other products and services which are sold in market. Even in the developed countries there are large amounts of non – branded, ordinary generic types of products. Many of them are as good as branded products in terms of meeting technical specifications and consumer satisfaction. Some of them get a ‘standards certification’. In India it is ISI marking (Indian Standards Institution) now called Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Without any special GI or Trade Mark or Brand Logo, the customers can be satisfied about minimum assured quality of the product, with such certification. Nowadays there are several other marking for export quality or for several other ‘niche’ quality assurances.

In addition, many food products nowadays print about their contents, as a part, ‘quality assurance information’ to the consumers.

Arrival of standards by BIS is a fairly complex process, as it is so in various international standards. BIS has many committees of experts to arrive at a nationally acceptable minimum specifications. There are various factors that need to be accounted for. It is easy to draw up specifications for ‘highest’ quality standard; but it can push the costs of products. In countries like India such standards can wipe out whole range of micro and small – medium – enterprises (MSME’s) causing severe dislocation to the economy and society. Therefore the process of drawing BIS specifications carefully balances several such considerations. 


Many common persons and even many persons in elite circles, are not fully aware of various competitive commercial politics and geopolitical pressures that enter to standards making. Such pressures were there earlier too. But sovereign countries could fairly well balance these. But modern democratic States are under various other forms of global competitive trade and commercial pressures, because of the use of electronic and print media as well as through activist groups. While there are some positive elements in such pressures such as keeping the governance systems agile and away from stagnating lethargy, injecting greater care for public accountability etc, there are a number of negative elements, as well.

For example many advertisements go beyond the usual highlighting the positive features of the products or services and also informing the public of authentic comparative advantages against competitors. Big companies spend lots of money (often more expenditure than for research and development – R & D) for advertisement. It is difficult for smaller companies to go to court against superlative claims against “other” products.

In addition to the advertisements there are many planted articles which look “scientific” – as ultimate truths, preferring their products.

A recent phenomenon especially after globalisation has spread to all countries, is to use many activist channels – a number of them funded directly or indirectly by companies to further their commercial interests. All use scientific jargons and cite some studies!

Thus there is a multipronged attack to capture the minds of middle class consumers and to create scar about all products which are not of “their” specifications.

As long as these are merely in terms of advertisements, articles and lectures, one need not be unduly worried. But nowadays the increasing tendency is to presswise through activism and scaremongering, the channels of standards making processes. For each and every item, pressures are built up to ban an item or enact a new law to introduce a new set of stringent specifications. Such activism has become an industry or business!

Pressures t adopt Euro standards for all automobiles were one such example. Similarly there are pressures to ban most chemical fertilisers and pesticides from the agricultural field. There are some activist groups which would like to abolish all street hawkers of food from cities and towns in order to have better hygienic standards for “Indian people”.


A number of those who promote such activist ideas, think only about their surroundings and assume that India has already become a developed nation which should eradicate such ‘dirty’ ‘low quality cheap’ things from being seen. Then there will be a shinning India, at a stroke of a pen, by enacting a new ban, or a new law for different quality standards.

It is good to remember that out of the 1.2 billion Indians now about 100 million are rich / super rich; about 400 million are middle class (upper, middle and lower); if India grows fast with 9 to 10% GDP growth, some 40 – 50 million may get added to this 400 million every year; rest 700 million (BULKY BASE) are too poor for the modern world; they don’t have famine now; no major epidemic. But they live with scarcity, uncertainty of tomorrow, and many endemic diseases. Every year we add 20 million Indians for all of the 1.2 billion total.    

If we grow well in 5 years from now say 2017, we will have 100 million rich, 720 million middle class and 500 million in BULKY BASE. Total 1.32 Billion.

If we use strict standards of quality as in Europe or USA or Japan, of the 400 million middle class now, more than half cannot afford to buy the products or services. They will join the bulky base!

For example, most of the drinking water available in India is not of a very high standard. Suppose we enact a law that all Indians should be given a drinking water to a standard available in the bottled water, most urban water supply systems will collapse. Similar will be the fate of Indians, if we place European phytosanitary standards for our agricultural products, meat poultry etc.

The list is endless.

This is one area in which the political system and the bureaucracy have been sensible and have been striking a reasonable balance between affordability and ‘better’ quality. An example was in slow withdrawal of DDT, which was needed to fight malaria, etc.

India and China and many developing countries are trying to bridge the developments which were denied to them through a normal evolutionary economic process. They are catching up. How was Europe or USA, 100 years ago? No body asks these questions. 


I am all for adopting the most advanced technology which are emerging and which have imbedded newer knowledge about the earlier deficiencies or ill effects learnt through years of applications. (When introduced decades ago, such deficiencies were not well known or alternatives did not exist.)

But ask a question: are these new technologies available in the market place (not free but at a reasonable price so that the costs of production does not go up)?

Let us look at the endosulfan case. Currently it is immensely useful to the farmers to fight a whole range of pests effectively. Leave out, for a moment, the controversies about the studies which the activists claim to be final proofs of human impact.  Let us opt for a ban. But the alternates are all under the IPR protection and the European companies will not give away the technologies ‘free’ or at a ‘reasonable price’. They would like to see a law first and that helps their monopoly sales! Well this is also a part of competitive market economy, as in love or war!

Thus standards are being used for TRADE AND TECHNOLOGY domination. I have several examples in all fields.

Can we then use the compulsory licensing route to force the production of the alternates by others in India? Is there a political will and courage? Also what are implications on international forums and further investments? Another set of activist groups will work for protection of IPR’s! Also how far India can succeed in WTO (World Trade Organisation) forums, because the current IPR owners will go to WTO against such infringement.

Thank God, there is a provision for 1+5+5 = 11 years in which period Indian authorities can help our manufactures to go to alternates, in an affordable manner.

We need transition time for many such items.

 Extremism of do-gooders while may be well intentioned (through not always well informed) will affect the bulky base and the lower and middle classes. We need to enable them grow up faster, not slip down through the ladders of new standards.


Most of the readers will be familiar with inhalers for asthma control. It has CFC, a global warming chemical. The total of the CFC’s emitted through use of such inhalers will only be a small fraction of one per cent. Activists worked on to ban it. After several scientific committees studied and reported, the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave a three year period to ban the use of CFC in asthma inhalers. It was noted that an alternate was available. A few months before the last date, some persons started realising their mistakes. First the alternates were not easy use; they get sticky. More importantly, the cost of the new type inhalers were substantially costlier, affecting the poorest of the Americans who needed them the most.      

A top scientist who was in the Committees (who had agreed earlier) came out against the ban, saying that he was not aware of these. A good person! But it was too late because units producing such pharma grade CFC’s closed down!

For A full report please refer to “Scientific American India”, Aug 2008, p.12 – 13, Newscan Health Policy Section “Change in the Air”, 


A peculiar mix selective media reporting, one – point activism without looking at the totality of all Indians, commercial vested interests and nowadays some political interests, have joined up to work against something or another. Sometimes courts enter the scene. Some oppose new technologies like biotechnology which can help a lot of Indians; some want to ban all old type chemicals just because some developed countries advocate the ban. By all means, let us remove dangers to people. But let the issues be studied carefully without prefixed biases and media induced scare. Also let us balance cost aspects, IPR aspects, affordability for all sections of persons. Let us prepare our industry, consumers, people, etc for a change in a systematic manner. Let us also remember that there is nothing like ‘zero defect’ in any human endeavour.

Use standards to build confidence for people. Those who want the newest of the newest for their consumption because they can afford and want to be different, let them have their deluxe standards. Let it not affect lives of others.

Let us help all Indians to reach reasonable quality of life – which requires faster economic growth and mass consumption by people in the bulky base and in the lower middle class, who have low incomes.

Otherwise we may end up as a deeply divided India, the top of which under the technological and intellectual domination of the commercial and geopolitical interests of the developed world, and the bulky base eternally slipping down the ladders of newer changes introduced in the developed world.      









1.Yagnaswami Sundara Rajan is currently Honorary Distinguished Professor in Department of Space (DOS), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He has made major contributions to various aspects of management of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) over the past four decades.

2.Born on April 10, 1943, Y.S. Rajan received his Masters degree in Physics from the University of Bombay in 1964.  He joined the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad as a Research Scholar to work with Dr. Vikram Sarabhai’s team.    Beginning as a developmental engineer, he went on to hold several important positions in ISRO/DOS, Scientific Secretary, ISRO being one of them.  His strategic inputs to Prof. Satish Dhawan, the then Chairman, ISRO, integrating different perspectives from the internal and external systems that ISRO had to deal with, were strategic to the overall management and in giving direction to the nascent space programme of the seventies and eighties.  He was thus, a key figure who played a very important role in the emergence of ISRO as a major space power.  His work at ISRO was recognised internationally and he was elected as Member of International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) (1986), among the first few Indians then.  Recently as Chief Mentor ISRO Strategy Group, he was instrumental in bringing out a unique report (2011) for taking ISRO into the future.

3. Prof. Rajan’s contribution in areas like STI administration, institution building, diplomacy, strategic studies, environmental technologies and natural resources management has been widely recognized. At the peak of his career in ISRO, Y.S. Rajan made a shift in his career and began addressing various national issues and problems.    He was the first Executive Director (ED) of newly created Technology Information and Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), since (1988-2002).   Rajan not only transferred best practices and knowledge from the space system but also pioneered new approaches to deal with the even more complex problems facing India for which  technology could offer solutions.  TIFAC became world renowned.  The popular and path breaking book, India Vision 2020 by Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam with Y.S.Rajan is the outcome of his work at TIFAC. 

4.Prof. Rajan’s work at TIFAC and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) created technology consciousness in Indian Industry and to bring technology to their forefront of priorities as well as to show them how to pursue technology for business success.  His footprints in multidisciplinary applications of science and engineering can be seen in many parts of India, be it Mobile Diagnostic Clinic at Uttarakhand, TIFAC-Centers of Relevance and Excellence (CORE’s) at hitherto left out institutions, with farmers in Bihar, the early work for the Nalanda University, earth quake shelters in Gujarat, animal husbandry, composites materials or sugar technology, to name a few among the many. As a Vice-Chancellor, Punjab Technical University (PTU) and Scientific Adviser, to Punjab Chief Minister, he initiated a number of new institutional innovations which have now borne fruit.  

5.Prof. Rajan has been honoured with many awards including Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering (1998); Fellow of World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS) (2010); Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from Jain Vishva Bharati University, Ladnun, Rajasthan (2005)



 The C Subramaniam Memorial Lecture



Honorary Distinguished Professor,

ISRO / Dept. of Space,

[This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

(views personal)


Organised by Madras Science Foundation

on 02 March 2012

at Chennai

SCIENCE AND PEOPLE OF INDIA The C Subramaniam Memorial Lecture organised by Madras Science Foundation on 02 March 2012 at Chennai delivered at the Triple Helix Auditorium at the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI

Y S Rajan



It is indeed a great honour for me to deliver a lecture in the celebration of the memory of one of the greatest sons of India. He was a great politician, minister, administrator and statesman among the many titles that can be given to him. One major thing that stands out in his life, is his deep understanding of what “science” can do for the people of India. He indeed „made friends with science‟, in a Nehruvian sense. (See my website for “What is Science? Who is Scientist?”

 I had the good fortune of knowing him closely since 1989 since Dr. Vasant Gowariker the then Secretary, Department of Science and Technology (DST) was engaged in a project to provide pre-fab latrines to Bombay slums and to build a large garbage derived fuel plant as a demonstration to be replicated. CS as the (then) Governor of Maharashtra was a great supporter of the project. There were many discussions about applications of science to a actual real life problems of India.

 When the Jawaharlal Nehru Award was given to CS by the Indian Science Congress Association (1992), it was my good fortune of being the scientist recipient. The award‟s format is that one person should be great public figure and another a scientist.

 The Tamil poem I sent to him on the occasion has been published in my first Tamil poetry book “Nenjaga Malargal” (1999-Kalaignan Pathippagam). An English translation by C.V Karthik Narayanan is given here (Reference Blossoms of the Heart published by New Century Book House (2002), Chenna).


Bharathi gave the emotional fervour

Mix did he ever enjoyable Tamil sweet,

With my life-essence!

With the spiritual force beyond quantification

Vivekananda with Himalayan qualities

Gave a clarion call:

“Perform your duty for the country”

And roused my inner voice! „

Not wasting a second should we learn

New ways and technollgy,

And elevate ourselves in the earth,

And bearing the scientific ways

Should we build an exalted society‟

Thus did Jawahar yearn;

He did make some of his dreams,

Reside in me!

The award which bears his name,

Is further elevated by Subramaniam‟s name

Who give us the green revolution

I (who also got this award)

Glitter like a dust in Sun‟s light!

(Note: Jawaharlal Nehru Award by the Indian Science Congress Association was given to CS and the author).


Later interaction with him was rather intense after the publication of 25 volumes Technology Vision for India 2020 (1996). CS was very impressed by them as he had read the four volumes connected with Agriculture and Agro Processing fully. In a meeting with him at Chennai at his residence, he very much appreciated the work done and the road maps contained therein.

It is at that time he explained about the idea of the work he envisaged for helping farmers; what is now National Agro Foundation (NAF).

I remember still the detailed conversation we had. He explained in detail how he has written to the Planning Commission and others. He stopped then. Then with folded hands I said „Sir, may I now complete as to what happened?‟ I told a process and said that he would have received a letter after about six months that all these ideas had been already implemented. He turned to me with a surprise and said, „How did you know?‟ I said „ Sir, all the great institutions you had built or nurtured, have started adopting a standard pattern of response to any new idea!‟.

Well, we spoke further. I mentioned to him that we can consider supporting NAF under the scheme of Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council(TIFAC) which bought out the Vision 2020 reports after an evaluation. He was ready for it. The late Prof. S K Sinha who led the Agriculture Vision 2020 and was doing follow up in Bihar, came later, reviewed the plans. In fact he added one additional equipment for measuring residue of pesticides. The project was funded by TIFAC. Later Dr. Kalam also visited him.

 Building of NAF was an exciting story. I could see in him a great hurry. There were many amusing (then painful!) problems; we solved them innovatively. I had discussed with him many times that we need 10 NAF‟s all over the country. He had given a number of ideas of reaching science to people. I will describe one of it later as a plan of action for this august gathering.

Somehow I got a feeling that he was holding on to his breath (literally) to see NAF inaugurated. He was no more with us a few days later, after the successful inauguration.


NAF is just a small symbol that he was not just resting in the glory of Green Revolution or greatness of Rourkela Steel Plant (in those days) or the Approach to Science and Technology Plan (1973).

Among other things, he lived with „Science‟ and was trying to capture any step that was available to create new opportunities for Indian people. He actively participated when the then Minister of State for S&T, (late) Shri Rangarajan Kumarmangalam initiated a series of a public debate on S&T policy all over the country (1993). The meeting was at CLRI auditorium. MOS (S&T),CS, Dr. G Thyagarajan, (GT) and I were on dias. CS remarked that S&T discussions were safe at the hands of three „Rajans”. His directions were excellent.

 I am going to show you slide (slide-2) on Leather 2010 with an endorsement by GT and CS separately in two books (1994). This is the result of a national exercise conceived and orchestrated during 1992-1993 by GT along with TIFAC.

Many would not be aware that it was a precursor or prototype of the later massive nationwide exercise Technology Vision 2020 for all major sectors of India.

The reason I am showing this slide is that CS was able to capture the importance of that book for India‟s leather sector. (It later led to a Leather Technology Mission). Also perhaps he might have seen its potential for applications of the methodology to other areas. Leather sector touches the lives many ordinary poor Indians and also has a capability to absorb many elements of new advanced knowledge from science, technology, and engineering thus, increasing the economic value addition, so crucial to raise the incomes of Indians, from the subsistence levels of their existence.

There are many other examples about CS, known to even a person like me. There will be much more. One suggestion I have: There is a need to initiate a systematic and scientific recording of the great ideas and involvements of CS.

A very important reason why I dwelt upon the above items, is to make the persons in this august audience to ponder and to reflect as to how much they were able to use the talents and wisdom of this great man during his life time. Let Delhi be far away! But what was done nearby at Chennai and Tamil Nadu? Well, we cannot reverse the time. Let us at least venture to discover many other knowledgeable persons currently living in Chennai (with my limited knowledge itself, I would rate the “population density” of such gifted persons in Chennai being one of the highest in India) and make them continue the CS type of vision of using „science‟ „as a friend‟ to solve real life problems of Indians.


Now I will get into a few important principles, potentials and processes in the context of harnessing the friendship with science for people of India. 

I have described at length the Nehruvian quotation leading to the now popular saying “future belongs to those who make friends with science” in my book “Empowering Indians with economic, business and technology strengths for the twenty first century” (2001) (see Article section for a download). The Chapter 1 of the book is “Glimpse of Technologies: A vision for India”. It was an updated version of my talk delivered at Kolkata for receiving Jawaharlal Nehru Award (1992) which I got with CS as described earlier.

Nehru‟s language used in 1937 is very poignant and powerful. However for simplicity using current day practices of power points, I am showing a few slides.

First one (Slide 3)describes as to how Nehru arrived at science: Politics bought him close to People; he saw the Poverty; then he sought solutions in Economics; he finally came to Science. 

Nehru was not merely imagining then (1937). National mood was expecting practical solutions for people from Indian scientists. You will be amazed to see an editorial from the Ananda Vikatan (1935). See a slide (Slide-4) of a woman with a kerosene stove. I am not translating it in full. The editor while welcoming the introduction of the stove to help women, is concerned about its safety; and also that it is being IMPORTED! (Videshi). Then it ends wondering whether the existing hundreds of science degree holders could do something to make a SAFE INDIAN STOVE. In every part of India, be it a dry land framer or a flayer or shoe maker would have had such lurking hopes! But what is now happening? I don‟t think even the most educated persons look forward to some thing from our sprawling „science establishment‟! Why?

 Let us see the assumption in the Nehruvian statement. As the slide (Slide-5) shows the feedback circuit from „ science‟ to other three segments of societies and their sub elements are missing in the Indian context!

 Green revolution was possible because CS and Sivaraman with the help of many others in the states, etc., made a closure of the circuits. But consistent work in the later years slackened. 

So did Kurien, in his own inimitable style!

Post independent India saw rapid growth of science, technology and engineering institutions, colleges and universities. We saw the rise of Atomic Energy, Space and Defence Research establishments. The sprawling institutions of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) did a remarkable work for adaptation research, local customisation and extension services to the farmers for several years starting in 1960‟s. But over a period,customisation, extension services and mass applications took back seats. The latest reports brought out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India and Academic Foundation, New Delhi “The State of Indian Farmer” : A Millennium Study (2004)” – a 27 volume series (Reference www. list and describe several deficiencies in reaching poor and marginal farmers as well as in terms of providing cost-effective solutions to middle and richer farmers in the contemporary markets. Main reason is reported to be the much needed continual attention to the field conditions such as emergence of pesticide resistance, fall in productivity etc., - which are a part of the dynamic processes of nature. Only continual „scientific monitoring‟ can help to work out newer solutions in advance and make them available to the farmers. Similarly one can point out several such gaps in other sectors of the economy which employ a large number of Indian people.

Another major S&T establishment is the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which absorbs considerable budget from the central government. Its earning from public or private sector industry is very small. It also absorbs considerable part of extra mural research funds from the Ministry of Science and Technology and other Central Government departments.

Indian industry is still dependent on imports of technologies in direct and mostly in embodied forms (of equipment; propriety software; designs etc.,) Nor are there any major products or processes in mass use that are inventions of CSIR. A recent NISTADS report, India: Science and Technology 2008 by National Institute of Science and Technology (NISTADS), CSIR (full report available at which is an extensive survey, indicates that most of the Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSME‟s) do not get any knowledge inputs from our S&T system or big industries. To quote the report “About 98% of MSME units in India has almost no relation with big industries or channel partners”. “………..almost the entire sector (85-86%) uses traditional knowledge in its production units, domestic R&D organisations have a megre share in provisioning knowledge, only about 5-7% of the technical knowledge transactions are with public R&D”………… They struggle and survive. Many of them close down in the global competitions (such as cheaper goods from China).

On the other end 80% of the Indian imports are by the big corporate, usually called as India Inc. see slide (Slide-6). This is a major cause of current account deficit in India‟s world trade: imports are always much more than exports. Thus, there is a near total disconnect between Indian Industry and science establishments. Ratan Tata, who normally does not speak out much, had to point out the need for oriented and relevant output from institutions like Indian Institute of Science (IISc) (Slide 7).

Often the apex bodies of S&T and other science forums like the academies only discuss about the input side to S&T such as funds, S&T expenditure as a percentage of GDP, recruitment, etc., At best for the output side, mention is made of number of publications papers or citation indexes. On patents there are some data but it is pathetic considering global standards even after twodecades of globalisation. As for the commercialisation of patents, situation is grimmer.

 When I point out these facts at a national or sectoral scale, it does not mean that there are no small islands of excellence. I am aware of a number of them. In total, they are small in national scale. Excellent work by them in S&T institutions, academic institutions, industries (big or small) and in agricultural fields. Their successes are often inspite of the system.

 Space and atomic energy have shown considerable successes. But they are yet to reach their full potentials when one considers the national needs (which include global opportunities for high tech trade and markets). Also, their spin off to other sectors of economy and educational institutions is miniscule. Some of the recent problems with respect to nuclear power are also partially indicative of the disconnects between the science system and the people of India.


„Why so?‟ will be a legitimate question. Scientific Policy Resolutions (SPR) (1958) is a beautiful document, one of the early manifestoes of science from newly liberated developing nations. It led to expansion of S&T infrastructure. But as any objective research will show, Indian science grew separately; industries grew separately and social applications grew separately. It is easy to blame the bureaucracy (favourite whipping boys and girls (?)) and the unspecified “Government‟. In reality, the political system and politicians kept full faith on the „scientists‟. They were (are) represented in many apex forums. Government and its bureaucracy created many apex bodies for the scientists, the way they asked for. They funded the projects, they asked for! In fact, this led to isolation in the cozy corners of the Indian economy and society.

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai is almost about the lone scientist-in-power who spoke against this situation as early as 1967. He points out various problems including that of S&T community and had suggested some remedial measures. For a full text covering this part, can be seen in my book “Empowering India” Chapter 1 quoted earlier. He would have had very few takers at that time, especially in the S&T community which was growing fast then. He did not live long to push his ideas through as he died very early in 1971.

Another two important set of documents are: The reports of the National Committee on Science and Technology (NCST) and Approach to Science Plan (1973) for which CS contributed with his leadership and knowledge. Had they been followed up, the „why so?‟ question would not have arisen.

What happened later is history, with mixed feelings about multitudes of missed opportunities, as we look back now. I was too young then working to build up the Indian Space Programme envisaged by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. Itwas a great vision and challenge then to reach “Science” to people which was my guiding inspiration.

 Probably worried about some of the happenings in India and the direction it was following, CS wrote a classic “India of My Dreams” (1972), Orient Longman Limited.

There is a quote in it from him, which is an abbreviated title of this section. I had expanded on its context in my book “Empowering Indians” Chapter 1 under the section Technology Milieu for India.

CS‟s full sentence: “Work has to be productive; creation of wealth that is reproductive” (Slide 8)

It was a remarkable courage to articulate this in the then India, which was obsessed with socialist slogans of “license-permit quota-inspector raj”. It was a time when profit was equated to sin. Government expenditure was considered as a panacea for all ills, and no one cared for outcomes except for successful closure of audit and CAG reports!

The same statement was a remarkable foresight then, almost envisaging the period which was two decades ahead, post 1991 liberalisation and globalisation in India. If our government‟s societal programmes and public good programmes like „science enterprise‟ had absorbed the deep meaning of this „mantra of modernisation‟, India would have been a global leader in several fields including S&T.

If science has to serve people, it has to make them productive. It is not to be a one-shot exercise of demonstration of a possibility with government funds or somebody‟s funds. It has to lead to creation of wealth by them, which is reproductive and therefore self sustaining. Continual maintenance of this process for years to come is embedded into the statement. We tried to absorb these ideas, in our work for TIFAC and for Vision 2020 work. S&T community or others did not embrace it fully, as it meant a lot of hard work! The statement is true now. After 40 years! It is like the evolutionary process of life: survival, growth, reproduction and propagation of the species.

Let us now look at some basic principles has to how to achieve it. Normally the requirements of ordinary poor people of those, of India Inc and also of those in between will be different. Science has to serve all of them from high tech to medium tech to those relevant for marginally living population.


India is ONE. There is no doubt about it. But to flash a headline of a billion plus hearts excited or depressed is an imagery of one-size-fit-all imagination. It is far away from reality. Indian people live in different situations and locations. Their capabilities (due to their existential situations) differ drastically. “Shining India” or “Developed India” or “India Super Power” or

“India Soft Power” etc., are slogans that die, as fast as they appear. They are relevant to a small fractions of people of India. Otherwise most of the Indians are in search of productive work which alone can assure them sustainable and decent incomes. But nothing comes from mere wishes or slogans or assertive statements. Nor by the mere articulation of the potentials, through reserarched and realistic reports (as was the vision 2020 documents) or otherwise. TIFAC did some limited follow up work, with success. But the scale required for the country will require strong commitment by all govt. departments and industry.

Let us look at the slide (Slide 9) which summarises the existential realities of India. The figure in the slide has been explained in detail in a book “Charkha and Chip: Rural Industrialisation and Technology” edited by Kamal Nayan Kabra and Laxmi Dass, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi (2006) in the chapter 5 “Indias Rural Poverty and Possible Solutions” by Y S Rajan. It describes in detail how a globalisation process only depending upon imported technologies can only take care of the rich and a good part of middle class persons giving them better life. However, bulk of rural poor and slum dwellers (who are mostly migrants from rural areas) will be impoverished as they will be treated as suppliers of primary produce. Empowering and upgrading them will require many local solutions (high science as well as known science). A number of solutions to correct these asymmetries are given in that Chapter.

I am, therefore, not repeating the details here excepting to quickly describe the concepts.

In the Slide 9, the extreme right is the global forces acting developing countries (their societies, markets and technologies)

 The slide was made in 2000. It is very much valid now. As you can see in the right hand extremes, some rich Indians are globalised. Now you can see Indians listed amongst global biggies and People of India Origin (PIO) finding new comaraderie in India. Capital from India flows out. Initially, it was heralded as a great success of Indian entrepreneurship and management skills. Yes, partly it is true. For many millennia Indians were good in global trade and handling money! Till 1850, India‟s world trade was about 30% next only to that of China.

But the implications of such capital flow is the negative impact on the employment opportunities for Indians living in India. That was forgotten during the IT euphoria of mid-nineties and the early part of 21st century when reforms were on higher gear. As we move towards the left side, you see the middle class, aspiring Indians. Mostly they are urban, subsidised by the large slum dwellers who keep the cost of living down. The middle class persons though much better off than what their parents and grandparents were, have various sorts of pressures on them: most of them due to poor infrastructure (electricity, water transport etc.,) as well as the ubiquitous corruption in the governance system.

 The middle class persons who aspire to try entrepreneurship face the realities of the oppressive system of “doing business in India”. It is part of the reason why Indian technologies which might have flowered into the markets die at best in pilot projects. S&T departments/agencies, while attempting some support systems for such technologies have been operating in narrow modules of their own making. For slums, they have very little to contribute.

 Coming now to the extreme left, that is the region where most Indians live – mostly in villages. Some of them are mobile in search of wages. This is the area which is most neglected.

We now look at the arrows connecting these broad segments, rich and middle class persons have considerable knowledge linkages to deal with global market forces. In fact most of them thrive through globalisation, because they can compete in the global markets. They can collaborate with foreign companies as outsourced sub-contractors or joint partners or as employees in case of most middle-class persons. Middle class persons also get opportunities to invest in shares and feel the thrill global financial forces. Major cities are thus a part of global forces and the sprawling urban nuclei (Tier 2, tier3, tier 4 towns) provide the conduit to reach to the villages for obtaining the primary produce cheaply. The farmers and other workers (artisans etc.,) had their own subsistence level work to do. Technologies come in embodied forms as fertiliser, pesticides and some improved seeds. A few rich agricultural areas which were covered by Green Revolution, have in fact become urban nuclei, through they have lots of green fields. But most of the villages are still unreached and unserved through modern knowledge, skills and investments. 600 million Indians are without electric power. Some of the current investments in villages or tribal areas are mostly for extracting natural resources and transporting them as primary produce to urban areas or often for exporting (mere trade!). There is no attempt at serious economic value addition at village levels. Therefore most villagers do work which is “not PRODUCTIVE enough” in terms of measures used by global market forces. Their wealth is thus reduced further be it for agricultural produce or mined material. This is the phenomenon of impoveristiment of the rural people, including the middle level farmer. To say that their absolute levels of consumption is better than what it was 100 or 200 years is not a valid argument. We need to compare it with the massive consumption growth of middle and rich classes. In addition, most of the rural workers and even owners of land, cattle etc., are in the unorganised sector; so are most slum dwellers. Also many persons in middle class are in unorganised sectors with little security for the future. We have thus a huge social asymmetry in India. When it comes to knowledge and skill asymmetry, things are worse.

Only when we greatly reduce the knowledge and skill asymmetry, suited to each sector of economic and social activity, we can remove poverty. Only then, Indian people will be served by the knowledge currently with the elites and middle class persons of India. It is not a uniform one-size-fit all solution to be placed in a website or broadcast by a satellite. It is to be customised to each clusters of persons. Much of Vision 2020 follow up by TIFAC was of that


type. NAF belongs to that genre. There are several others of that type. But taken together, they are yet too small in number to make a massive transformation for India; for harnessing the true potential of science for people.

 A quick look at the next slide (Slide 10) will briefly describe the task at hand. Left side represents those who live currently with primary production or old artisanal work or micro industries, without the reach of knowledge (science) and investments. Investments without empowering them with knowledge skills will not be effective. Therefore their contribution to GDP is low and they get poor incomes. In the extreme left are persons whose GDP contribution is higher because they enjoyed the benefits of Green Revolution and other such follow up.

In the right side, the extreme right and around it a little below, represent the contributions of those who work with modern businesses and industries such as high tech manufacturing, ICT, financial services, govt., etc., They deal with higher and higher knowledge of global standards. They add more economic value; earn more. One cannot build a society with only the left and right extremes “taking off” with more and more investments-govt, private or foreign. The challenge is to lift the bath tub curve, higher and higher. It is possible only when we, as a nation, create facilitating mechanisms by orienting S&T policies to suit the demands modern globalising economy. While doing so we should also realise realities of the historically left over large segments of our population as described in the earlier slide of globalisation network.

On the one side we need to spur high technology industries (as in the right side of the bath tub). They will increase national wealth manifold and give the nation a strategic leadership in the world.

Then to suit the huge middle of the poverty zone we need a whole new set of flexible mechanisms that do not exist even now after more than six decades of independence. We need to also help the left extreme side with high value primary production: high value agriculture, high value mining, forestry, use of biotechnology for tapping primary resources.

Those in the poverty zone will get the advantage of the double pull of left and right side (which are „spill overs‟ or trickle down) but more importantly special lift of the whole region by judicious inputs of „science‟ is to be attended to specially. I find Mahatma Gandhi more and more relevant when it comes to addressing real life problems of Indian people. His insights are so remarkable. It is a pity that we have not captured them and creatively evolved with progress of science and economics. 

The changes required for the S&T policy is not more of the same. „Science‟ funding in India has grown without proper economic and social audit. It is done by the sheer faith of SPR statement and the awe with which political system and public sees the scientists.

 In response to a request by V.S. Jafa, a former Secretary to Government of India, who was editing a book on liberalisation, I wrote a chapter on “S&T policies at the time of liberalisation”. (Reference: Liberalisation in India, The Road Ahead, Ed by V S Jafa (2001) New Century Publications, Delhi, India, Chapter 6). 

In view of its importance it was also reproduced in my book “Empowering Indians” as Chapter 5 under the title “Policies for Science and Technology in the era of liberalisation”. That chapter provides a holistic view of S&T in the national, economic, social and global context. We had emphasized based on detailed study of S&T policies of other countries, the need for Employment as the top of five priorities listed for S&T policy orientation. The five priorities are:

 (i) Need for Employment

(ii) Improving Quality of Life of People

(iii) Vitality of the Economy: Wealth, Creation, Trade and Technology

(iv) National Security and

(v) Human Resources for S&T.

It further discusses the complex connections and arrive at the contours of the S&T policies. What is told there, is valid even now after a decade and will remain so far quite some time.

Therefore I do not repeat them here and request that august persons in the audience to study it when they can.

 I would only elaborate on what is required to be done for the poverty zone, which was the great concern of CS in his later years. 


 As I had briefly mentioned earlier, during my discussions with CS for NAF and follow up actions, he often came to the topic of having „Science Referral Centres‟ to be available all over India. It has to be near people – may be at least one per district, if not more. His idea was that any person in the local area; farmers, smiths, cobblers, micro industry persons, artisans, college educated persons with ideas for action or entrepreneurship; or big/medium industrialist or administrators or healthcare, sanitation service providers etc., should be able to refer their perceived problems or hopeful expectations to a centre. The small team in the centre which is reasonably knowledgeable to deal with issues, should be able to reach out to other referral Centres or experts and give the right lead for those who referred to them in the first instant, very soon. Then the actions are to be between those who referred and the experts. The Centre will not be intrusive, but keep track of progress between them with a view to learn more and serve better in future.

Through the experience of nationwide work of TIFAC (1988-2002) for Home Grown Technologies, Technology Missions, TIFAC Centres of Relevance and Excellence (TIFAC-CORE‟s) and Vision 2020 follow up actions as well as through reading several experience based books and articles about stimulating socio-economic development, I had also arrived at the need for such centres, at least at the district levels – not necessarily at District Headquarter Offices, but somewhere where access is good, perhaps in an Engineering College or Science College or a Management Institution, but funded by the central/state government.

ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) connections would make these 600 odd centres as vibrant nodes of enabling people to make friends with science. But the actions cannot be abdicated to a portal or a data base or online interaction. Much as I would have liked to pursue establishment of these Centres, I could do not do so because of the attitudes of S&T powers-that-be. A standard question by them is: “What is science in it?” Such centres cannot survive without public (Govt) funds, not just for 2-3 yeas but for a decade or more, because Indian people‟s accumulated problems are over several centuries. We should not expect the poor and marginally living people to pay for the knowledge services. It is a public good, much as we need not support basic research as public good.

A good theoretical foundation about activities similar to such referral centres was given by Prof. N S Siddharthan, then Professor at the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) at Delhi University Enclave. Currently he is an Honorary Professor of Economics, Madras School of Economics and Honorary Director, Forum for Global Knowledge Sharing

Our joint research work of about three years resulted in a book “Global Business, Technology and Knowledge Sharing: Lessons for Developing Country Enterprises” by N.S. Siddharthan and Y.S. Rajan published by Mac Millan India Ltd (2002).

While critically reviewing many case studies from TIFAC, Prof. Siddharthan said, “Rajan, what you people at TIFAC are doing, is Technology Intermediation (TI)”. We developed the idea further and you will find them in two chapters of the referred book. Later we found TI is useful in developed countries as well, it is a knowledge industry.

 To give a brief idea about TI, please see slide (Slide 11). When non technical persons (farmer, business persons etc.,) approach an issue they are interested as illustrated, in the lower part of the axis they face lots of uncertainties. The technical (scientific) persons similarly as in the upper half face the whole range of technological uncertainties to be resolved. If these two groups are not put through the funnel of their uncertainties, they will never realise their common end goal. Unfortunately, in the modern economy and society, they have to work together.

The whole process of TI or Science Referral is nothing but enabling and facilitating them to go through the funnel to reach the goal of economic or business or social benefit. Time in the X-axis can be a few months or few years or several years. The process is same.


I have been all my life inspired by Subramanya Bharati. His remarkable imageries about the use of „science‟ for building up India are covered in many songs written around 1910‟s. A notable melodius song is “Bharata Desam”, popularly remembered from the stanza “Vellippanimalaiyin”. Twelve stanzas are full of items ranging from shipping to mining to interconnection of rivers to remote telecommunications to moon exploration to street cleaning technologies. I won‟t say it here. You may recall them. But I wish to an other quote from him: He says “Payan varum chaihaiye aramaam” “The actions which give useful and beneficial results is DHARMA” As I had mentioned earlier, Chennai has gifted persons in almost all disciplines from arts, humanities, sciences to administration covered in it with experienced people, active professionals and young students. In addition to IIT Madras, you have 100 odd higher educational institutions in Arts, Science, Commerce, Engineering, Law etc., there are so many special forums and foundations. There are excellent industrialists and business persons with broad minds.

 I have been all my life inspired by Subramanya Bharati. His remarkable imageries about the use of „science‟ for building up India are covered in many songs written around 1910‟s. A notable melodius song is “Bharata Desam”, popularly remembered from the stanza “Vellippanimalaiyin”. Twelve stanzas are full of items ranging from shipping to mining to interconnection of rivers to remote telecommunications to moon exploration to street cleaning technologies. I won‟t say it here. You may recall them. But I wish to an other quote from him: He says “Payan varum chaihaiye aramaam” “The actions which give useful and beneficial results is DHARMA” As I had mentioned earlier, Chennai has gifted persons in almost all disciplines from arts, humanities, sciences to administration covered in it with experienced people, active professionals and young students. In addition to IIT Madras, you have 100 odd higher educational institutions in Arts, Science, Commerce, Engineering, Law etc., there are so many special forums and foundations. There are excellent industrialists and business persons with broad minds. 

My appeal to you all (including those who are not here) is: why don‟t you all commit and start Science Referral Centres which will do Knowledge and Technology Intermediation functions bringing “Science” to people in Tamil Nadu?

It can set a trend setter for whole of India. CS will be happy and bless us.

This exercise is not just that of scientists, technologists economists, administrators, managers etc., 

You can rope in the artists, musicians, film stars, public figures, politicians etc., into it, as a movement to awaken people to use science for their benefit.

 We need not just stop at: “Kolaiveridi”

The new songs can be: “Nam Makkal Vaazhvudi Vignana vazhidi”

 Thank you. 

Twenty First Century Mission : Living with Nature in the Modern Form

Twenty First Century Mission : Living with Nature in the Modern Form

Appeared in KISAN WORLD May 2011 Vol 38 No.5



Last month (April 2011) we addressed several simple technologies needed for the basics of agriculture. By now our readers are familiar with the fact that most technologies howsoever simple they look as a end product in consumer’s hands, are actually a confluence of several technologies. Some of them may be simple coming to us over centuries and some of them may be very complex and of recent origin.

To make a satellite is very difficult; more so to launch it but the satellite based communications like telephones, mobiles or TV are so simple to operate. Many sophisticated medicines are a result of high science and high technology. But when the users have them, they are easy to consume; even dosages are usually small and nowadays one dose lasts for 24 hours or more.

Some of the drip irrigation systems or water pollution monitoring technologies are high tech in origin. So also some advanced pesticides . Herbal derived supplements be it aloe vera or others used for facial radiation cover or as diet supplements, equally need high technologies in their manufacture. Purifying them form other naturally or process wise coproduced impurity (or toxic) elements require high science and high technology.

No one can dispute the historical fact that it is the application of high yielding varieties of seeds, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides which saved the population all around from terrible famines. If these technologies had not been adopted (as also the pharmaceutical products like antibiotics, immunisation medicines etc used to eradicate diseases or reduce morbidity) human population would have had a “natural” (?!!) control as it was in the past many centuries, still close to 2 billion.


Not only in India, but all around the developing world, populations have grown many fold. All are getting reasonable access to food (though we need to go a long way to assume food security as we conceive now and were never able to conceive in the past except in fertile imagination of poets and artists!)

The current populations in the developed world have stabilised. They had started the use of these technologies during the 19th and twentieth centuries, and it made them powerful in global trade and military. They had colonised many parts of the world. They had also expanded from the original habitats of Europe to several new continents. They grew more in number and also became prosperous. Then they worked to conceive the prosperity. They have lower population growth now. It helps them to maintain their high standards of living.

The current story of the developing countries is approximately equivalent to what these countries were during the early twentieth century. But they (developing countries) do not have any colonies to exploit. Modern agricultural technologies including medicines have advanced so much that populations in these developing countries keep on growing. Even with a one – child norm China’s population is high.

Of course there is definitely a case for stepped up family planning and population control measures. But that alone will not suffice in the short and medium run. The demands of the increasing populations and more importantly the growing perception of equity will require more and more supply of food, energy, water, medicines, etc to increasingly higher standards of quality and much greater expectations of reliability and safety. Human beings would also demand large number of animals, birds, fishes etc as food as well as pets. Concern for environment will need creating more forests, greenery, and greater attention to pollution control methods.

The technologies developed around the ‘green revolution period’ and improved later many times more, are no longer adequate to meet these demands. We are all aware of the problems of productivity and soil conditions in rice – wheat high out put areas like Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and parts of Andhra Pradesh. More and more energy inputs, fertilizer, pesticide usage etc are making their agriculture uneconomical. Also there are real problems of pollution of water, soil, and produce.

Organic alternatives though romantically very attractive are yet poor in terms of productivity and yields. Only in a few select niche markets (supported mostly by the fads and fashions of the affluent) they are profitable.

Indian farming community as a whole cannot be made prosperous with organic alternatives alone. Marginal and small farmers would currently require water, fertilizer, high yielding seeds, other chemical micronutrients, and pesticides to produce to an extent when he can make profit.

But as we have noted, such an extension of earlier technologies alone are not enough to save soils and to have a long term sustainability.

There is a new technology which has emerged world wide and has a potential to solve many of the current problems. That is BIOTECHNOLOGY.


Basic researches in biotechnology and its small scale applications have emerged about half a century before.  Now there are a few persons who were / are advocating it as a panacea and one – stop solution for most agricultural and environmental problems. On the other hand there is a vocal group which paints it with darkest of brushes. They present it as if man has started interfering with nature for the first time.

Let us again remind ourselves that cross breeding and genetic manipulation of plants, birds and animals have been done by the civilisationally progressing human beings for over a few millennia: The rice or wheat we eat now (even before the high yielding varieties came into large scale operation, are not the same as they existed say 10,000 or 20,000 years ago. Genetic manipulation of plants was a great art and science of plant breeders. There were also many great breeders of special dogs or horses or cows or birds etc. Grafting of tress was a fine art and science.

As the human knowledge expanded, human kind also started knowing more about atoms and therefore of making better materials and chemicals. Similarly in the biological world advances in the scientific and technological knowledge about the cells (basic building blocks of plants, animal etc) and the finer constituents of the cells, led to more efficient manipulation of cells and molecules to produce new varieties efficiently. In turn, they learn more about the impact of changes in genes, the basic units which carry biological information about the various qualitative and quantitative features of the big biological unit – of plant, human body etc. Genes decide weight, resistance to diseases, colour, - almost every parameter of significance to life and performance.

So if we can work at the cellular and genetic levels (that is, take from one living being and place it on the other etc.), we can get the characteristics of the total plant, animal etc altered to meet our performance goals. It is the same thing as the cross breeding but is done at a basic level and more efficiently. Therefore it is more effective and more reliable in output than mere cross breeding. After all, a greater knowledge of scientific aspects leads to better efficiency and reliability in all fields of mechanical, civil, chemical, nuclear etc, engineering. That applies to biological field too.. That is biotechnology: working at cellular and molecular level to cross couple between one organism to another to obtain the desired properties; High level of scientific knowledge is used here.

Is it without any risks?

Everything in nature is full of risks. There are many risks endemic around us and they are not visible to us. Earthquake, cyclones, landslides, forest fires, floods etc or a sudden outbreak of an epidemic or for that an aircraft accident. We know where natural disasters occur frequently. But we cannot for sure say that this particular place on earth is free from all disasters or diseases!!

That apart, in nature things keeps on mutating (changing). Over several thousands of years, totally new forms can appear. The changed forms were not without their its dangers or risks just because nature did it. About 95% of species which evolved naturally, no longer exist now. Nature is ruthless for its own creations!

Unlike the usual natural forms of evolutionary changes or the earlier (pre – biotech) man made breeding changes, biotechnology processes are very fast and can be made in the laboratories and transferred to the nature. No doubt hundreds of tests are done to have a high degree of confidence so that undesirable features have not been inherited through these changes. But there could be some totally unforeseen undesirable after effects which may manifest later, after several decades or centuries, as these new organisms evolve in nature.

But to cite this as the cause for stopping biotechnology derived products for agriculture, environmental protection, removal of many toxic or non toxic industrial, domestic and agricultural wastes, or to have faster growth etc (as biotechnology offers many new avenues) is irrational and denies the opportunities for millions of poor persons to realise some reasonable prosperity.

As per published reports global biotech crop planting has already jumped by 10% during 2010. Now it has reached a milestone of about 1 billion hectares of land. As per the documents of ISAAA (International Service for the Application of Agri – biotech Applications) (taken from an article dated Feb 22, 2011 by Larry Dignan in Smart Planet)

v 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries have planted biotech crops.

v Of these farmers 14.4 million are considered to be small scale

v 1 Billion hectare land mark (cumulative) has been achieved in 15 years of commercialisation.

v The four largest biotech crops are maize, soya been, cotton and canola

v Current global biotech plantings are now 148 million hectares.

v Biotech crops cover 59% of the world population.

US has 66.8 million biotech hectares in production, followed by Brazil at 25.4 million, Argentina 33.9 million, India 9.4 million, Canada 8.8 million and China 3.5 million. US has many crops like maize, soya been, cotton, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya; China has cotton, papaya, poplar, tomato, sweet pepper. India has only cotton. European countries have very limited usage: less than 0.1 million in potato and maize.

Global activism against biotech crops comes mostly from European sources. Cotton farmers in India have gained considerably by the use of biotech crops. Still govt. facilitation can make it better. More importantly if India can adopt biotech maize, papaya and horticultural products, all Indian farmers will gain. Biotech seeds are costlier due to high tech processes. But they can give better performance in yields and / or pest resistance; even dought resistance if specially engineered. Govt can help poor and marginal farmers financially to begin with. Over a period rain dependence can be greatly reduced by the use of right biotech crops.

While safety precautions during tests, trials and initial deployment are essential, raising irrational cries and mass hysteria against biotech crops, will only slow down considerably the march of Indian farmers (and therefore of Indian people) towards prosperity.

Biotech can help the farmers as a useful addition to their tools. It can also help recover many green revolution lands which are now flogged to their limits. If supported well biotechnology can also remove many toxic wastes through special bacteria and help grow forest saplings faster.  Biotechnology can also hep preserve and nurture many genetic resources which have displaced by the commercial considerations of modern agriculture. This technology gives a new window of opportunity for Indians who have missed many before due to irrational paranoia or sheer inertia. Let us not miss it now. Let us adopt it before it is too late. Many countries are moving fast.

Let us therefore be sober and not lag behind many countries and people who have made friends with biotech crops.