By Rajesh Mehta and Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan
Gone are the days when countries could build their global competitiveness based on low labor costs or cheap/abundant natural resources. The new innovation era only favors those who invest their resources and thought process deeply in science and technology. Renowned Scientist and Intellectual Dr. R.A. Mashelkar says: “India needs science that solves, technology that transforms and innovation that impacts. Our new policies must be aspirational in terms of India creating new frontiers of actionable science, technology and innovation that may bring rapid, radical yet sustainable transformation.
The pandemic has made the nation realise the importance of science as a saviour. The investment in science and technology, which has hovered around 0.7% must be raised progressively in the decade of 2020s to 2% of GDP, that has been consistently promised over the past 3 decades.” Israel leads the way with 4.95%, thanks to their innovation ecosystem, which involves public ‘investment’ in innovative ideas by the private sector, with the government as a stakeholder in their returns. Other leading countries include South Korea (4.8%), Switzerland (3.4%), Japan (3.3%), USA (2.8%), China (2.2%), EU members (2-3%).
India, which is expecting a second wave of COVID-19 has recently announced many reforms in multiple sectors The government has now decided to formulate a comprehensive Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020. As Dr Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST, puts it: “STIP 2020, India’s fifth national Policy for Science, Technology and Innovation aims to capture the aspirations of the entire nation through a decentralized, bottom-up and inclusive approach. From open science to funding priorities; critical human capital to equity and inclusion; strategic technologies to traditional knowledge systems; science diplomacy to science communication – this policy promises a renewed STI ecosystem for an Atmanirbhar Bharat.”
This policy with its decentralized manner of formation may reorient STIP in terms of sectoral focus, the way the research is done, and technologies are developed and deployed for socio-economic welfare. The STIP 2020 is based on four interlinked tracks. Track 1 deals with an extensive public and expert consultation process through a dedicated platform. Track 2 involves expert-driven thematic consultations to feed informed recommendations into the policy based on scientific evidence. Track 3 involves consultations with ministries and stakeholders while Track 4 constitutes an apex level multi-stakeholder consultation.
STIP 2020 included health as the 11th thematic group (TG), focusing on achieving affordable and accessible healthcare for all citizens. Needs of specific sectors of innovation within the healthcare domain have been separately addressed. The policy also stresses strengthening the primary healthcare system and preventive healthcare of the country. It also focuses on global collaborations.
The pandemic has had a long-lasting effect on the educational sector. This situation demands the use of virtual classrooms which we are not used to before. To adapt to this change over to a digitally-driven world needs technology and innovation. STIP 2020 has included education in the 6th TG. School, university, and vocational education are the main focus areas of this thematic group. The policy recommends steps to accelerate research and innovation in the higher educational institutions, improve the education system and teaching-and-learning through research, and make education at all levels more inclusive and connected with the economies and societies of the world.
Technologies can be transferred from other countries. For example, USA is a country with which India has a trade surplus. India and the USA have been partners in many areas including science and technology. Both countries believe that science, technology, and innovation are key tools that may help to address global challenges such as climate change, health, education, etc. They are involved in building public-private partnerships that promote science and technology-based innovation. The thematic group 13 i.e International S&T engagement and STIP diplomacy focus on achieving collective and inclusive global development through international engagement by maximizing the scope of indigenization and sustainability for national advancement and promotion of global commons.
The STIP 2020 would further strengthen the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF) and U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund which have provided roughly $3 million to fund hundreds of exchange visits and support technology commercialization through U.S.-India joint ventures. The role of Indian diaspora should not be underestimated, as articulated by Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary (CPV & OIA), MEA: “Technology and innovation are principal drivers of economic growth and social dynamics. Our future aspirations may be realized when we are able to prepare our people for a scientific temperament to take advantage of the process of change. The Indian diaspora, which has been at the forefront of scientific achievements, may play an important role in this endeavour.”
Apart from these sectors, STIP 2020 can also be beneficial to underutilized technologies such as AI, blockchain, etc. More research on these associated technologies may positively impact many industries such as defense, education, health etc. All these may be a booster for Indian companies as these provide technological and scientific infrastructures for their development. Considering the present trend, effort must to taken to review the policy every one year as the world is changing at a fast pace.
Therefore, in general, STIP 2020 may help achieve the goal of Atma Nirbhar Bharat. The focus must be on self sufficiency of production and should also consider acquiring patents, IPR etc., for the new technologies. Telecommunication, semiconductor and electronics industry should be strengthened as it has now become a core industry that is crucial for a country’s development. Proper fund allocation for R&D, a reformed bureaucracy, tax benefits and market access for the infant companies should also be considered. Government must encourage R&D grants to private companies like in Israel, China & the US.We can hope that STIP 2020 may be a solution to the major problems of our country and take our country to heights. Furthermore, the current government’s focus on indigenous knowhow (AYUSH ministry for example), may also help India shine globally standing on its own merit and unique technologies based on timeless ancient wisdom, curated/enhanced by modern science and technology.
(Rajesh Mehta is a Leading International Consultant & Columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation & Public Policy. Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan is Founder Director, Infinite Sum Modelling, and affiliate faculty member at University of Washington Seattle. Views are personal.)