The Future of Science in India

The Future of Science And Technology in India

By: Ashutosh Sharma
With DST enabling multiple changes through various steps, Science and technology in India is entering a new era where quality R&D will go to new heights.
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Indian science has a great potential to achieve and meet the challenges thrown up in the national and the international arena. However, a concerted effort needs to be put in place both in terms of resource and research. While maintaining competitiveness, we have to be watchful of the future roadmap of science and technology as well as the new challenges, opportunities and threats the future is likely to hold.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has been mandated by the Indian government to promote capacity building in science, apart from forging new partnerships and research and development (R&D) missions. Many of the newer interventions are designed keeping in view our societal priorities reflected in the national missions such as Make in India, Startup India, Digital India, Swachch Bharat, and Swasth Bharat etc. The DST strongly believes that scientific endeavours should percolate down to social benefits that allow equity, empowerment, inclusion and development.

DST and the Industry

The DST has worked on several initiatives to help counter future threats to our demographic dividend, posed by the exponential rise of intelligent machines. Programmes such as Interdisciplinary Cyber-Physical-Systems (ICPS) are aimed at synthesising artificial intelligence, internet-of-things, big data, deep learning and learning with physical mechanisms such as robots and sensors. These themes will feed directly into securing our competitiveness for Next Generation Manufacturing (Industry 4.0) and help build an empowered inclusive Super Smart Society (Society 5.0) of the future. Also, the DST’s National Supercomputing Mission is in the process of installing a vast supercomputing grid with more than 50 high performance computing facilities, aimed at taking India into the front ranks of computing and big data analysis. It is an example of the Department’s strong collaborations across the country, especially that with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). Moreover, DST has initiated a programme to promote development of advanced technologies in the country—robotics and automation, nano-materials, precision manufacturing, etc.

DST’s collaborative project with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) titled ‘Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT)’ entails addressing societal needs such as healthcare, information and communication technology, energy, sustainable habitat, water resources and river systems, advanced materials, security and defence and environment and climate change related mitigation and adaptation. In addition, a joint initiative with the Ministry of Railways focuses on fuel efficiency enhancement and emission control technologies and alternate fuels, fuel conservation in diesel traction etc.

Reaching out to the vulnerable

The DST intends to cover myriad sectors that will help the masses accrue energy benefits, wealth from waste and optimal extraction and sustainable management of bioresources. With the objective to contribute towards Swachch Bharat, a new programme under DST’s Technology Development Scheme has been initiated to throw up solutions for waste management—especially hospital, plastic, e-waste and more. In a recent development, a low cost device named ‘Surya Jyoti’ has been deployed in urban slums and rural areas which lack electricity supply. Surya Jyoti has a life of 20 years and can be used for 12 continuous hours providing illumination equivalent of a 60W incandescent lamp. About 1000 such lamps light up the slums of Delhi, Kolkata, Agartala, Guwahati, Bhopal and Bengaluru.

Going global

To leverage India’s excellence, learning opportunities in frontier sciences have to be enhanced through global industrial initiatives. The nation has agreed in principle to set up an advanced gravitational-wave (GW) observatory in India that will be the third across the world. Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) laboratories of California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA are partnering the initiative. India’s participation in Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA was approved in September 2014 and is being led by the DST and The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Likewise, a 3.6 meter Devasthal Optical Telescope was installed near Nainital with a collaboration between Belgian and Indian scientists.

A new membership which came through in January 2017 will help India collaborate with the global scientific and technological know how. India has become an Associate Member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) which is the world’s largest nuclear and particle physics laboratory. DST’s earlier feathers in the cap have been a collaboration with Trieste-based Synchrotron Elettra in Italy and partnership with the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR-GmbH) at Darmstadt, Germany—the largest accelerator facility for basic science research. In India, the project is being implemented jointly by the DST and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

Tackling challenges

The DST is attempting to reverse brain drain by attracting researchers during the early period of their career to pursue exciting and innovative research in frontier areas of science and engineering. Accordingly, an Early Career Research Award (ECRA) of INR 50 lakhs has been put is place to provide support for a period of three years. Also, the National Postdoctoral Fellowship (N-PDF) scheme is aimed at attracting and retaining young scientists.

It has been observed that fewer women opt for science and technology in India. DST in actively working towards bolstering the 2014 programme KIRAN (Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing) which handholds women and provides them with new opportunities. This initiative encourages women, who suffered a break in their career primarily due to family responsibilities, to take up research and intellectual property management.

Way forward

To become one of the top five countries in terms of scientific research, India needs to enhance its R&D infrastructure, number of active scientists and quality, relevance and impact of research and career opportunities for the youth. The DST will also require to further intensify industry-academia partnerships to find solutions to national challenges pertaining to energy, water, health, environment, climate and cyber security.

The DST has attempted to create a robust innovation and start-up ecosystem and put in place a national initiative acronymed NIDHI (National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations). The NIDHI initiative promotes the culture of innovation among students and rural communities with a special emphasis on inclusion, relevance, frugality and grassroot applications. The goal is to create 20-25 new technology business incubators every year with a total capacity to reach around 5000 startups in the next four years. In order to encourage children, DST has launched an exceptional programme Million Minds Augmenting National Aspiration and Knowledge (MANAK) to reach out to 5 lakh schools to scout, develop and reward top 1 million innovative ideas.

During the inauguration of the 104th Indian Science Congress held on January 3, 2017 at Tirupati, the Prime Minister desired greater involvement of accomplished foreign scientists. The DST is now in the process of launching a new programme ‘Visiting Adjunct Joint Research Faculty (VAJRA)’, which will invite up to 1000 distinguished scientists from across the globe to initiate collaborative research and innovation in India. This scheme will be a game changer in the research arena of India and will also improve the global ranking of our academic institutions. Citizens’ engagement is an important thrust of the DST. This is based on the felt need to create awareness about emerging frontiers and the pervasiveness of science and technology in daily life. The Science Express is a classic initiative that serves this need especially for the benefit of children across the country.

However, there is still a scope for advancement—India needs to encourage researchers to further push up the quality of research; visualise/analyse needs of the nation; develop critical thinking about critical issues and problems pertaining to everyday life as well as create awareness and inspire them to devise innovative ideas. Technology development and deployment entail a special focus on leadership and self-reliance in digital technologies and its applications including supercomputing, cybersecurity, big-data analytics, computational sciences, modelling and simulation etc. These will improve decision making and governance systems. The DST is aware of the need to further strengthen this landscape to reinforce India’s leadership in these areas and continually deliver value-added services for the benefit of our country as a whole.

The Author is Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.


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