Chapter # 3. Technology and Innovation
- India should be among the top 50 countries in the Global Innovation Index by 2022-23.1
- Five of our scientific research institutions should be amongst the top 100 in the world.
- India should aim to spend at least 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on R&D with equal contributions from the public and private sector.
Recognizing the crucial role of technology and inno-vation in economic development, India’s policy mak-ers have taken several initiatives to promote science, technology and innovation (see figure below).
Various schemes have been launched to attract, nurture and retain young researchers and women scientists in the field of scientific research.
- India has become a major destination for outsourced R&D activities. We currently have more than 1,100 R&D centres set up by multi-national companies (MNCs) such as IBM, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Lupin, Wockhardt, etc. These R&D centres cover areas including information and communication technologies, biotechnology, and aerospace, automotive, chemicals and materials technology. India’s relatively strong intellectual property regime will facilitate its emergemce as a major R&D centre.
- Indian scientists are at the forefront of some global groundbreaking work. Recent contribu-tions by Indian scientists to frontier research and technology have been encouraging. For example, 37 Indian scientists from nine Indian institutions played a key role in the discovery of gravitational waves that received the Physics Nobel prize in 2017. Indian scientists also contributed to the discovery of a neutron star merger at Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), USA.
- The development of Brahmos, advanced air defence supersonic interceptor missiles, diverse missiles and rocket systems, remotely piloted vehicles, light combat aircraft, etc., are brilliant examples of India’s progress in strategic and defence technologies.
- India now ranks amongst a handful of nations that have credible capabilities in the field of space technology. The upgrading from SLV to ASLV and PSLV to GSLV, the first moon orbiter project Chandrayan-1, Mars Orbiter Mission and the recent simultaneous launch of 104 satellites are India’s significant achievements.
- India is now the third largest country in terms of the number of start-ups. This number is expected to rise exponentially in the coming years. The government has set up the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) to transform radically the innovation, entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystem of the country.
While India has improved in most areas of technology, it is also necessary to recognize the challenges that we need to overcome to become an innovation led society.
- Low R&D expenditure, especially from the private sector, is a key challenge facing the innovation ecosystem in India. The latest R&D Statistics2 released by the National Science and Technology Management Information System (NSTMIS) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) show that while R&D expenditure in India tripled in the period from 2004-05 to 2014-15, its size as a percentage of GDP remained at 0.7 per cent.
This is very low compared to the 2 per cent and 1.2 per cent spent by China (for 2015) and Brazil (for 2014) respectively.3 Countries like Israel spend as much as 4.3 per cent of their GDP on R&D. Furthermore, while the share of the private sector in R&D investment in most technologically advanced countries is as high as 65 per cent to 75 per cent, it is only about 30 per cent in India.
- The number of scientific R&D professionals in India at 218 per million population is distressingly low compared to China’s 1,113 and USA’s 4,019.
- The link between research, higher education and industry is weak and nascent. It needs to be strengthened and put on a firm platform.
- Our education system has so far not focused on cultivating a scientific temperament at an early age. Even at the later stages of an aspiring scientist’s career, the lack of career opportunities in basic sciences leads to the diversion of potential researchers to other rewarding sectors.
- “Lab to Land” time is too long. Renowned public funded institutions like the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) etc., along with prominent universities across the country, have developed many frontline technologies.
However, the rate of transfer of these technologies to industry and for societal benefits is low.
- The adoption of indigenous innovations by Indian industry is not very encouraging.
Frequent violation of Preferential Market Access (PMA) is an issue leading to large-scale imports of foreign products and services.
- The public procurement system is heavily biased in favour of experienced and established products and technologies. This strongly discourages new and innovative technologies offered by start-ups, who do not get much-needed support from government procurement.
- There has been poor progress in the development and deployment of affordable technologies for rural areas, particularly in agriculture, agro-processing, micro irrigation, etc.
The Way Forward
- An empowered body is needed to steer holistically the management of science in the country. Its scope will include science education and scientific research as well as coordinating and guiding various science initiatives. The proposed body will help in pursuing inter-ministerial, inter-disciplinary research besides breaking silos among various scientific departments/agencies.
- The major weaknesses of public funded R&D and technology institutions like CSIR, DRDO, BARC, ICMR and ISRO are their poor marketing skills and information dissemination. Some measures for enhancing technology commercialization by public funded institutions are provided below:
o Value addition centres may be set up in each of these institutions for (i) up-scaling technologies, (ii) improving technologies from Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4 to TRL 6/7, (iii) demonstrating industrial scale pilot production, (iv) coordinating with in-vestors to incubate entrepreneurs, (v) bridg-ing the gap between industry and technolo-gy development teams, (vi) enabling formal technology transfer, (vii) enabling commer-cialization and marketing and (viii) providing technology support during production.
o DST should create a National Technology Data Bank in coordination with all publicly funded R&D institutions. This will provide a central database for technologies that are ready for deployment or under development.
o Public funded research institutions should consider shifting their focus to the development and deployment of socially relevant technologies in areas such as clean drinking water, sanitation, energy, affordable healthcare, organic farming, etc.
These technologies have large potential for commercialization.
- Measures related to government procurement include the following:
- In all government procurements, international competitive bidding for both products and services should be resorted to only when Indian manufacturers are unable to supply products/services of comparable international quality. This will promote the Make in India initiative.
- Quarterly workshops may be organised for creating awareness among procurement managers of various ministries/ departments/state governments/CPSUs, about the DIPP’s Public Procurement Order 2017 (which aims to promote Make in India products/services).
- To adopt innovative technologies, experts/scientific practitioners should be mandatorily included on board/committees related to government procurement. All RFP/RFQ documents should include a suitable clause in this regard.
- In order to promote procurement of goods/ services developed by Indian start-ups, preference in the technical evaluation could be provided to them.
- To bring vibrancy to frugal innovations, a non-lapsable “District Innovation Fund” with a corpus of about INR 2 crore in each district may be creat-ed and used to promote grass root innovations.
- AIM has already launched Atal New India Challenges in partnership with five ministries to create products from technologies and prototypes in areas of national importance such as solid waste management, water and wastewater management as well as road and rail transport. These, along with Atal Incubation Centres (AICs) will also provide the platform for promoting frugal innovation. More such challenges will be launched in partnership with ministries and support will be provided to these ministries to adopt the resultant innovations.
- AIM has set up over 1000 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) around the country covering over 625 districts. It is aimed to take this number to at least 5,000 by 2019 and 10,000 by 2020. Further expansion will be considered based on the outcomes of the first phase.
- To promote entrepreneurship and startups, AIM is supporting AICs across the country including at Tier II/III locations. These include existing and new incubation centres. It is expected that more than 100 world-class incubation centres will be up and running by 2020.
- Foreign collaborators, consultants, visiting faculty, adjunct scientists, etc., need to be involved in pursuing R&D in the emerging areas of basic sciences such as nano-technology, stem cell research, astronomy, genetics, next generation genomics, drug discovery, etc. DST, in collaboration with Indian Missions abroad, may identify discipline wise foreign experts who can collaborate with Indian scientists to take basic research in these areas to the next level.
- The Higher Education Commission once set up may consider giving credits for innovation and start-ups and also setting up online entrepreneurial development courses in colleges and universities.