When we speak of science and human development, we cannot divorce it from political decisions, social choices, and questions of equity, ethics and access. Human development has been the larger purpose and the driving force of Indian scientific pursuits. And science has helped shape modern India. At the dawn of freedom, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru placed science and technology at the heart of national development. Our scientists launched pioneering research and built outstanding institutions with modest resources that continue to serve us well. Since then, our scientists have placed us at the forefront of the world in many areas. Our scientists put Mangalyaan in the Mars orbit in the first attempt — I must congratulate K. Radhakrishnan’s team — and their accurate prediction of Cyclone Hudhud saved thousands of lives.
Our achievements give us pride, but they do not blind us to the enormous challenges that we face in India. We are at yet another moment of expectation and excitement, as we were at the birth of independent India. But the dreams we all share for India will depend as much on science and technology as it will on policy and resources.
Our development challenges will naturally shape our strategic priorities in science and technology. Even as we focus on some key areas, we should not confine research and development to a few predetermined paths. And it is as important to focus on basic research as on research and development and innovation. We should also recognise that science is universal, but technology can be local. If we incorporate traditional and local knowledge, systems and technologies, we may develop more appropriate, effective, affordable and sustainable solutions that contribute immensely to human development and progress.
When I speak of the ease of doing business in India, I also want to pay equal attention to the ease of doing research and development in India. Funding proposals must not take too long to clear; meeting application requirements should not become more complex than research; the approval process should not become a deterrent for international conferences; and our scientific departments must have flexibility on funding decisions based on the uncertainties inherent in research activities. We want our scientists and researchers to explore the mysteries of science, not of government procedures. We want them to consider publications, not government approvals, to be the epitome of their success.
Further, not just scientific departments, but every other department in the government should see how to apply science and technology and promote research to improve their work. Each should have an officer focusing on science and technology relating to its area of work and allocate a percentage of its budget for such activities. Investments in science and technology activities should also become part of the expenditure on corporate social responsibility — to be funded directly or through an autonomous fund.
We also need to foster a strong culture of collaboration between institutions and across disciplines to take advantage of developments, innovation and expertise in diverse areas. My impression is that this is far from the ideal in India. We have to place the university system at the cutting edge of research and development activities in the country. Our investments in science and technology are far too concentrated in the agencies of the Central government and must become more broadbased. Our universities must be freed from the clutches of excessive regulation and cumbersome procedures. They must have a higher degree of academic freedom and autonomy and there should be as much emphasis on research as on teaching. In turn, universities must also subscribe to the highest academic and research standards and accountability. This includes thorough peer review.
India’s pharmaceutical industry has carved out a place for itself in the world because it invests significantly in research. Indeed, our long-term global competitiveness will depend not on replicating what others have done but on a process of sustained development and innovation. There is a growing trend of international collaboration in R&D, not just among business enterprises, but equally among researchers and scholars at universities and laboratories. We should take full advantage of this. For this reason, I have placed science and technology at the forefront of our diplomatic engagement.
I have often spoken of skill development for our youth. Our future will be secure and global leadership possible if we also prepare the next generation of world-class scientists, technologists and innovators. School education in science and mathematics should become more creative and stimulating. Let us also use the internet to bring the best of our scientists in direct contact with our children and our youth. Digital connectivity should become as much a basic right as access to school.
We in India are the inheritors of a thriving tradition of Indian science and technology since ancient times. Mathematics and medicine, metallurgy and mining, calculus and textiles, architecture and astronomy — the contribution made by Indian civilisation to human knowledge and advancement has been rich and varied. Above all, we must restore the pride and prestige of science and scientists in our nation, revive the romance for science in society, rekindle the love for it in our children, and encourage our scientists to dream, imagine and explore.
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