At the 102nd Indian Science Congress held in Mumbai in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “To me, the arms of science, technology and innovation must reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person.” It was an address that clearly articulated Modi’s vision of charting a path for the pragmatic use of science and technology to aid growth and development in India. The address was a clarion call to the scientific community and provided a new whiff of inspiration to the millions of Indians interested in science.
This vision of the prime minister has improving “Ease of Living” for ordinary citizens at its core. It was an attempt at motivating scientists and researchers to direct their focus towards resolving the issues that disrupt the life of the common man.
The transformation in the last four-and-half years has been remarkable. From engaging with Nobel laureates to brainstorming with India’s scientific community, from interacting with young minds engaged in Hackathons to posing questions for innovators and startup founders, the PM has made science the fulcrum of New India.
This, of course, was no simple task, especially in a country where institutions work in silos, where there are no connecting links between scientists and common citizens, and where research institutes are not qualitatively geared to deal with the requirements of 125 crore Indians. The issues faced by common citizens are complex and the solutions to them require an inter-disciplinary approach. In the last four years, the government has tried to enhance collaboration between various scientific streams to enhance the productivity of our research and development.
Government procedures and approvals for scientists and researchers have been placed online and made transparent, thereby assuring “Ease of Doing Science”. Our young scientists now spend more time dealing with the mysteries of science, than on government procedures. Various schemes have been introduced to improve the quality of research institutes, for the promotion of technology business incubators (Atal Incubation Centres) and research parks that promote innovative ideas until they become commercial ventures. This has opened up new opportunities for tech start-ups, propelling India to become the world’s third-largest technology start-up hub with the incorporation of 1,000 new companies in 2017.
The popularisation of science has been given a strong impetus. Platforms like “Innovate India” promote and recognise innovations happening across the nation by enabling citizens to share their innovation. Atal Tinkering Labs ensure that dedicated workspaces are created for students to innovate and develop ideas that will go on to transform India.
Scholarship schemes have been revamped and new schemes introduced to inspire young researchers and students to become active members of India’s growth story. The Nobel Prize Series is now being hosted in India. This event is seen as a celebration of science and education. It consists of an exhibition from the Nobel Museum and Nobel dialogues in which Nobel laureates interact with school children and teachers.
Prime Minister Modi also intelligently used his international visits to explore collaborations in various fields like clean energy, agriculture, fintech, biotechnology, medicine, healthcare and futuristic technologies, such as AI and Blockchain. India’s partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines was strengthened further with IRRI opening a regional centre in Varanasi. India’s collaboration with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US improved with our scientists participating in LIGO experiments. Similarly, India’s quest for clean energy was cemented with our instrumental role in forging the International Solar Alliance. The quantum leap of 21 places in the Global Innovation Index in two years, has also been noticed by the international community.
Science is a continuous journey. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, comprising of artificial intelligence, machine learning and smart robotics will create multiple opportunities for Indian scientists to create new tools that are relevant to India and are environmentally sustainable. Ease of Doing Science will indeed be the cornerstone of Ease of Living. As more bright youngsters take to science, they shall endeavour to find solutions in areas such as nutrition, agriculture, clean energy and the environment. The results shall certainly augur well for India.