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The knowledge superpower

Science and technology have played a pivotal role in embarking the country on a mission to reach equality with the rest of the world, writes Dr K. Kasturirangan. Special Coverage

india Updated: Nov 20, 2008 01:21 IST

Science and technology have played a pivotal role in embarking the country on a mission to reach equality with the rest of the world. In post-independence India, Nehru set the tone for scientific and technological progress with the early steps of establishing institutions like the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research as well as those dedicated to higher education and research. Today there are government departments and privately funded institutions dedicated to advancement of science and technology in various disciplines.

This article will highlight examples of pioneering and path breaking advances in Indian science and technology that have either already made a mark or bear the promise of doing so.

In bio-technology sector, India has emerged as one of the top five leaders in the Asia-Pacific region. Indian biopharma and the agri-biotech industries have notched up significant success, being the largest vaccine producer in the world and the largest cultivator of Bt cotton. Bio-informatics has created extensive electronic databases on several biological systems, after biopharma and agri-biotech industries and is the third in revenue generation. India’s biotech sector today comprises 350 firms generating nearly $2 billion in revenue and is estimated to grow into a $5 billion enterprise by 2010.

Nanotechnology, with the ability of providing tools to control, manipulate and construct materials at nano-metre scales, in combination with bio, promises unique solution in diseases like cancer. Khandelwal Laboratories has developed a patented technology on Gene Repair Therapy to stimulate dormant genes to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS and promoting research in nanodrug and drug delivery techniques.

The penetration of ICT to grassroots levels, achieved by voice, video and data networks have been phenomenal. Indian Railways’ Passenger Reservation System is a notable example. Satellite mapping tool ‘Bhuvan’ that is getting ready at ISRO is going to have a great impact on general public and in addressing problems like floods, famines, infrastructure development, education and so on. This will contribute to synergetic application.

India’s space programme operates one of the largest domestic communication satellite systems and the largest constellation of remote sensing satellites built indigenously. Nearly 211 transponders of INSAT and GSAT communication satellites support a variety of communication and broadcasting applications including telemedicine and distance education. Similarly, Indian remote sensing satellites provide a host of societal and natural resource management inputs in areas relating to agriculture, forestry, water resources and ocean studies to name a few.

Meteorological data from geosynchronous satellites like Kalpana are critical to weather prediction and disaster management. India has also autonomous capability to access space through our launch vehicles PSLV and GSLV. On October 22, India entered the exclusive club of countries engaged in planetary exploration with the launch of Chandrayaan-1. Successful accomplishment of this mission signifies capabilities in high technologies, complex system engineering, potential for frontier research and a culture of teamwork and unique management systems.

Our nuclear programme has distinguished itself for its innovative approach to developing power reactors. India has capability to build pressurised heavy water reactors operating in a safe and reliable fashion. Further, in order to exploit our vast thorium resources, India has adopted an innovative three-phase nuclear fuel cycle including mastering the complex fast breeder technology. Nuclear energy promises to provide significant component of our power demands for future.

Nuclear programme also has significantly contributed for food preservation, nuclear medicine as well as agriculture. The efforts of the Defence Research and Development Organization has resulted in notable capabilities in aeronautics, armaments, electronics, compact vehicles, instrumentation, advanced computer and simulations, special materials, naval systems, life sciences and information systems. At the system level, DRDO has been able to develop light compact aircraft Tejas and several types of missiles.

The significance of these achievements has to be viewed against the stringent embargo regimes, which we faced over years. These developments illustrate India’s ability to realise most complex and sophisticated engineering products and in many cases the world’s best like the remote sensing satellites.

The engineering efforts in the early phase of India’s development in enterprises like steel, cement, locomotives, power and fertilizers continue to receive latest technology both from indigenous and imported knowhow. So also is agriculture, which receives inputs from developments like genetic engineering and precision farming. Developments like Nano Car, an engineering marvel, represent another dimension.

The resultant repository of science and technology knowledge has certainly given India a unique position as an advanced country in the developing world. The sustained economic growth of 9 to 10% coupled with consolidation and expansion of S&T foundations would lead India to be a world leader of 21st century.

Dr K. Kasturirangan highlights the examples of pioneering and path breaking advances in Indian science and technology that have either already made a mark or bear the promise of doing so.