Union Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Dr Harsh Vardhan has revolutionised the working of science labs and the scientists by turning their focus on resolving the immediate problems of the people. He has successfully brought the labs and the scientists closer to the people reducing the gap that has been prevailing for a long time. Organiser senior correspondent Pramod Kumar spoke to him in New Delhi to know the initiatives that he has taken during the last one year and also what he has planned for the future. Excerpts:
- What are the major achievements during the last one and a half year?
The first indigenously developed Rotavirus Vaccine launch is a major break-through to boost efforts to combat infant mortality. Equally, the launch of Supercomputing Mission in collaboration with the DeitY is a visionary project to enable Bharat to leapfrog to the league of world class computing power nations. Our participation in Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA will enable Bharatiya astronomers to study front-ranking scientific problems such as formation and evolution of stars, planets and galaxies. Our 3rd rank in the world in scientific publications in Nano Science and Technology, largely due to Nano Mission of DST, is a good example of global leadership. Establishment of five Technical Research Centres in the existing autonomous institutions of DST is a major step to further enhance translational research. UV imaging telescope developed by Indian Institute of Astrophysics. which is one of the payloads on ASTROSAT and has started providing images which are better than global competitors, is a credible achievement of capability of Bharatiya scientists.
- There seems to be huge gap between the scientists, scientific institutions and the general public. What are you doing to reduce this gap?
Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), National Council of Science and Technology Communication and Vigyan Prasar organise many outreach programmes aimed at communicating with the masses about various Science & Technology activities being undertaken by scientific institutions. The Ministry also participates in big public exhibitions like India International Trade Fair to showcase the achievements and various activities undertaken by the Ministry. On the call of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi the scientists now deliver lectures in schools for developing scientific temper among students. Recently, the Ministry organised India International Science Festival, in which 10,000 delegates from all over the country participated and about two lakh common people visited the Expo.
- What mechanism are you developing to promote indigenous innovations and R&D aimed at resolving the immediate problems of the people?
The Department of Science & Technology (DST) is implementing many programmes aimed at promoting innovations and R&D such as setting up of Technology Business Incubators for promoting start-ups; supporting industries for commercialisation of indigenous technologies through Technology Development Board; translating R&D to products through bilateral R&D projects by Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA); and funding of Industry Relevant R&D projects on a 50:50 cost sharing basis with private sector. The programmes on water and clean energy are underway to address the challenges faced by the country for accessing clean water and clean energy. DST has also joined hands with the Ministry of Human Resource Development for implementation of Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT) Projects, which will address major societal and developmental needs.
- Bharat’s contribution in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is just 0.1 per cent. What is being done to improve it?
CSIR is a leader in generating intellectual property in the country. It has contributed to more than 2,000 patents during the last ten years. This is a significant output in terms of funds invested per patent when compared globally with government institutions or multi-national companies. Patent Facilitating Centres (PFCs) have been set up at 26 locations in the country.
- Will the entry of foreign universities promote research and development in the country?
Yes, they would certainly add value in teaching and research.
- Are you developing any mechanism to promote the grass roots innovators?
The National Innovation Foundation (NIF), Ahmedabad, is working towards serving the knowledge-rich, economically poor people of the country by documenting, adding value, protecting the intellectual property rights of the contemporary unaided technological innovators, as well as outstanding traditional knowledge holders on a commercial as well as non-commercial basis.
- Bharat has highly glorious scientific history. But our own people are not aware of it, rather they have an inferiority complex. Is there any initiative to apprise them of the glorious scientific past?
The science academies are doing commendable work on this front. Indian National Science Academy (INSA) publishes Indian Journal of History of Science on a quarterly basis and National Academy of Sciences-India (NASI), has published several volumes of history of science in Bharat. ‘Vigyan Prasar’, an autonomous institution of DST, publishes monthly newsletter DREAM-2047, which also include popular articles on the past scientific achievements and Bharatiya scientists.
- What about reviving and promoting the traditional scientific traditions?
The CSIR is playing a major role in protecting Bharat’s rich knowledge embodied in traditional system of medicines. It has created Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), in collaboration with the Department of AYUSH. The TKDL consists of about 2.93 lakh medicinal formulations from traditional texts of Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha systems of medicines in 5 international languages, i.e. English, Japanese, Spanish, French and German. Inclusion of yoga techniques from traditional yoga texts are under process. Recently, we have launched a scheme viz. Science & Technology of Yoga and Meditation (SATYAM) to scientifically validate the benefits of yoga and meditation.
- Some voluntary organisations are working to promote Swadeshi science and also making people aware of the glorious scientific past. Don’t you think the government should take them along since the goals are same?
We are working closely with voluntary organisations to promote swadeshi science as well as modern S&T methods and techniques. Recently concluded India International Science Festival is one such example in which Vijnana Bharati supported us actively.
- About two lakh Bharatiya scientists work abroad. Is there any initiative to reconnect them to their roots?
We have several schemes and fellowships to attract scientists of Bharatiya origin working abroad. For example, DBT reentry started fellowship programmes viz. Ramalingaswamy and Energy Bioscience Fellowships to bring scientists of Bharatiya origin back to the country for research. Department of Science & Technology has Ramanujan fellowships which is meant for brilliant scientists and engineers from all over the world to take up scientific research positions in Bharat, especially those scientists who want to return to Bharat from abroad. CSIR has conceptualised and made operational a scheme to attract and appoint scientists/technologists of Bharatiya origin and place them at an identified CSIR laboratory so as to nurture an identified research domain. Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is also used for reconnecting with scientists of Bharatiya origin.
- Bharat has been a hub for higher education for centuries. Can we not turn the tides in our favour again by encouraging foreign students to join our institutions?
We have initiated programmes and fellowships to attract students from neighbouring countries, African nations, Korea, France, Belarus and Bulgaria etc. to carry out research in our scientific institutions.
- What is in the pipeline?
A major new thrust in Marine Biology and Biotechnology is getting ready. DBT and the Ministry of Earth Sciences are working together to set up a major institute in marine biology and biotechnology. We have also initiated several new programmes aimed at serving the society viz. funding industry relevant R&D; high risk–high gain research, advanced manufacturing; and waste management, etc. We are also collaborating with several other Ministries such as HRD, Railways, Agriculture, etc. to realise the programmes like Make in India, Digital India, Swachch Bharat and Swasth Bharat, etc. With the Ministry of Railways we are also shaping a joint R&D Initiative for solutions for fog vision, fuel efficiency and emission control technologies, etc. Ucchatar Aavishkar Yojana and with participation of industry and line ministries will address the national priorities such as healthcare, information and communication, energy, sustainable habitat, nanotechnology, water resources, advanced materials, security, environment and climate.