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India to emerge as knowledge power: Dr Mashelkar
Priya Ganapati in Mumbai | September 25, 2003 19:14 IST
Nearly 80 per cent of India's spend on science and technology is still done by the government, with private industry participation at barely 20 per cent.
The Indian government spends 1.1 per cent of its gross domestic product on research and development in science and technology.
This figure has gone up compared to 1995-97 when the government's spend on R&D was just about 0.71 per cent. Most developed countries spend about 3 per cent of their GDP on R&D in science and technology.
Yet Dr R A Mashelkar, director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the largest chain of industrial research and development institutions in the world, with 38 laboratories and about 22,000 employees, believes that India is poised to become the largest 'knowledge producer' in the world.
"Even if India does not do anything it is inevitable that we will emerge as the knowledge power in the next 5-10 years. If you look at our successes in the past and our emergence in the field of software technology, then this is fairly clear," says Dr Mashelkar.
At the British Council in Mumbai, Dr Mashelkar delivered his lecture about 'Indian Science and Technology: Perception, reality and dream.'
Dr Mashelkar says that the perception about India's science and technology does not match the reality -- in which India has a rich heritage in the field and has shown significant successes in the last few years.
"The Sushruta Samhita which is over 1800 years old shows us that we had surgical instruments and operations then. The iron pillar in Delhi which has remained rust free for over 1500 years old is another example of India's strong heritage in science and technology," says Dr Mashelkar.
In the pre-independence era, from 1800 onwards, India produced some of the finest scientists of the world.
J C Bose (1858-1937) who along with Marconi is seen as the co-inventor of the radio, mathematician S Ramanujam (1887-1920), Nobel prize winner, C V Raman (1888-1970) and S N Bose (1884-1974) are just some examples.
Post independence, India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru helped establish a number of scientific and technical institutions, including the Indian Institute of Technology.
"We also had institution builders like S S Bhatnagar (who helped set up the CSIR), Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha who have set up some of the finest institutions in the country," says Dr Mashelkar.
And in the last three decades, though much of its contributions have gone unrecognised, Indian science and technology has some significant successes to its credit.
Dr Mashelkar divides the post independence era successes into four major sectors: the green revolution (agriculture), the white revolution (milk), the blue revolution (space) and the grey revolution (software).
Between 1950 and 2001, India has taken giants leaps ahead in agriculture. India's food grain production has gone up from 50.8 million tonnes to 212 million tonnes. Imports have vanished compared to the fifties and buffer stock has gone up from nil to 60 million tonnes today.
"India has come a long way when it comes to technology in food grain production. It's a different matter though whether everyone has food and how the buffer stocks are managed. But the contribution of science and technology in agriculture is immense," says Dr Mashelkar.
India has also become the largest producer of milk in the world.
Space is another area where India has indigenously developed almost all the technologies it needs.
The Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, is an example. The aircraft uses nearly 40 per cent carbon composites in body, all of which has been developed at the National Aerospace Laboratories.
However, the entire space programme has been running on a fairly low budget. For instance, India spends $450 million on its space programme, while GE's R&D spend itself is estimated to be $10 billion.
"Yet, India has had immense successes in recent times, especially in civil aviation. We are building a number of aircrafts for military uses and all with technologies that have been developed indigenously," says Dr Mashelkar.
Technology has also helped India score in unlikely sectors. For instance, India displaced China recently to become the world's largest producer of menthol mint oil.
Another success story has been that of the Indian pharmaceuticals and drug industry.
When Cipla offered its anti-HIV drug cocktail for $300 compared to $10,000, it was retailing then; the world took notice of Indian drug makers.
Since then the sector has carved a niche for itself in terms of the generic or bulk drugs that it exports worldwide.
Yet clearly, the country has a long way to go.
India is still among the lowest in the developing countries when it comes to filing for international patents.
When it comes to science and technology itself, the sector is suffering from the lack of fresh talent
"Indian science is at a crossroad. Despite the successes, science is not the first choice for young people in the country. The number of quality scientific publications in the country has also remained the same in the last two decades. The demand of science from the industry is also low," adds Dr Mashelkar.