41. The Seamless Interconnect of Science, Technology and Innovation

The Seamless Interconnect of Science, Technology and Innovation.

July 2022

Raghunath Mashelkar

President, Pune International Centre, is a fellow of the Royal Society.



Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, president, Pune International Centre, is a fellow of the Royal Society. He is a former national research professor and was the former director general of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi.

Dr. Mashelkar has more than 60 honours to his name, including the prestigious Lenovo Science Prize of the World Academy of Science, JRD Tata Corporate Leadership Award and Star of Asia Award. He was a member of the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council for almost 30 years. He is a recipient of Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.

Science provides the base for technology, which, in turn, triggers technology-led innovation. Potentially, science solves problems, technology transforms and innovation impacts.

The power of the idea that science, technology and innovation (STI) need to be seamlessly integrated has been driving the innovation to create social and economic transformation and has been well-recognized. In fact, innovation has become a tool for competitiveness as well as accelerated growth. There is a growing realization in India that research and innovation must go together. After all, research converts money into knowledge, but it is innovation that converts knowledge into money and social good.


Well-known scientist Dr Jayant Narlikar, in his book Scientific Edge1, gives a list of what he considers as top 10 achievements of Indian science and technology in the twentieth century. Dr. Narlikar’s listing has been chosen in that he is the only one who has, through his own astute understanding of what constitutes real excellence in science, pinpointed big milestones of individual or institutional achievements.

We note that in Narlikar’s list of 10 achievements in the twentieth century, there is none that came from industry.

In the pre-Independence era, the first on his list was Srinivasa Ramanujan, who opened so many new doors, some even well after his untimely death in 1920. The second was Meghnad Saha’s ionisation equation (1920), which opened the door to stellar astrophysics. The third was S.N. Bose’s work on particle statistics (c. 1924), which clarified the behaviour of photons and opened the door to new ideas on statistics of microsystems that obey the rules of quantum theory. The fourth was C.V. Raman’s discovery that molecules scatter light (c. 1928), the Raman Effect, which opened the doors for a new way to study the internal structure of molecules. The fifth was G.N. Ramachandran’s pioneering work in structural molecular biology (c. mid- 1960s), which created the Ramachandran Map, which, even today, is at the very heart of elucidation of all protein structures; leave alone his breakthrough on collagen triple helix.

Post-Independence, Narlikar listed another five. The first was the development of nuclear power and capability (founded in the 1950s). The second was the Green Revolution in agriculture (the 1960s and 1970s). The third was the Indian space programme and satellite fabrication, with satellite vehicle launching capability (from the late 1970s). The fourth was the work in high-temperature superconductivity (since the late 1980s). The fifth was the transformation of the chain of 40 laboratories of the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) towards an industry-oriented, performance-driven and accountable organization (in the late 1990s).

In the post-1950 list of achievements, there is none that came from industry. The only place where industrial R&D figures in is in the 1990s, during the transformation of CSIR, which, incidentally, the author was privileged to lead. All the achievements in the list, like that in agriculture, space, nuclear technology, etc., were driven by organized mission-driven research funded by the government. As regards excellence at an individual level, to use Narlikar’s words, there was no ‘Nobel Prize worthy’ breakthrough in science, as existed in the first half of the twentieth century. The sum and substance are that although India’s averages have risen as seen by its third rank after the US and China, it has not created those Everest-like peaks achieved in the pre-Independence era. Later in this chapter, we will deal with this aspect exclusively.

The recent book by Hari Pulakkat2 gives an engaging perspective of what was achieved in the post-Independence era. He also highlights space science and technology, and molecular biophysics, but he adds achievements in industrial research too. One is the prowess in innovative chemical process development that led India to become the pharmacy of the world. The other is the green technology developed in the leather processing industry. Interestingly, CSIR played a major role in both.


The last two to three years have brought a lot of cheer to Indian STI.

India’s rank in science is rapidly rising. It is now the world’s third-largest publisher of peer- reviewed scientific research papers, after China and the US. Between 2008 and 2018, India had an average annual growth rate in terms of scientific papers published of 10.73 per cent, as against China’s 7.81 per cent and the US’s 0.71 per cent.3 India became the first country in the world to reach Mars in its maiden attempt, spending just one-tenth of the budget that National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched a record 104 satellites on a single rocket. Although 2020 will be known as the year of the pandemic, it can be called the year of Indian science as well—so magnificent was the response by the scientific community on taking on the challenge of the pandemic.

When the pandemic arrived in India, we had negligible diagnostic capability, no point- of-care diagnostics, no vaccines, no therapeutics, and the biology and mechanism of action of the virus was unknown. Our scientists delivered on all this and more. Several innovative solutions like AI-powered contact-free health monitor and step-down ICU, multiplex RT-PCR kit, ‘saline gargle RT-PCR method’ for testing Covid-19 samples, 3D-printed masks coated with anti-viral agents and high-purity oxygen concentrator were developed.

Great progress was made in the field of diagnostics. The cost of RT-PCR test was brought down from Rs 3,000 to Rs 350!4 The Institute of Genomics and Integrated Biology even made the expensive Q-PCR machine redundant. It created a rapid diagnostic kit, with high affordability, relative ease, yet using cutting-edge CRISPR technology for detection of genomic sequence of novel coronavirus. With vaccines, Indian scientists got into the act with multiple strategies for vaccine development. Bharat Biotech used inactivated virus to develop their vaccine, and its Covaxin has been used to vaccinate millions around the world. Zydus is using spiked protein. Gennova has developed mRNA-based vaccine.

All this was possible due to the investments in STI over decades, which went on creating robust physical and intellectual infrastructures.

This is a near-term view. But let’s now reflect on how Indian STI has performed, as well as failed to perform, and also the lessons that we can draw from this journey.


Indian technology grew in a denial-driven mode in the post-Independence era, where for love or for money, no technology was available to India.

Foreign technologies were denied because of lack of resource as well as a closed economy in the pre-liberalized era. They were also denied due to security and strategic reasons. It was through the path of ‘technonationalism’ that India developed self-reliance through its own technologies in both civilian sectors as well as strategic sectors such as space, defence, nuclear energy and supercomputers.

Take defence. India developed diverse missiles and rocket systems, remotely piloted vehicles, light combat aircraft, etc. Brahmos is a great example of Indian prowess in strategic technology.

Take nuclear energy. The entire range of technologies, from the prospecting of raw materials to the design and construction of large nuclear reactors was developed on a self-reliant basis. India’s nuclear fast-breeder reactors emerged from its thrust towards technonationalism.

Look at space technology—from indigenous development to satellites to launch vehicles, from SLV to ASLV to PSLV to GSLV. India’s first moon orbiter project, Chandrayaan-1, Mars Orbiter Mission or even the recent simultaneous launch of 104 satellites are brilliant examples.

No wonder, India is now ranked amongst a handful of nations of the world that have a credible capability in space technology.

Strength respects strength. It is the growing technological strength of a nation that increases its access to technology that has been denied to it. The technology denial regime itself underwent a change as technonationalism gave India a strong technological foundation.

A case study of India’s forays into the field of high-performance supercomputers is provided below.


Technonationalism is always driven by technology denial. But the denial regime itself undergoes a change as technonationalism gives the country a strong technological foundation. When technology can’t be obtained for love or for money, there is no other way but to develop it on one’s own. When someone says I won’t give you the technology, one says thank you and develops it on their own. Denial has been a big driving force for India.

The author5 provides a powerful example of this by illustrating India’s forays into supercomputers, which today are being increasingly regarded as a strategic resource.

India’s supercomputer journey began when a Cray supercomputer was denied to India in the mid-1980s. India’s response was to launch the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in 1987 in Pune. In 1991–92, India developed its first supercomputer, PARAM 8000.

But PARAM by C-DAC was not the only response by India to technology denial. There was ‘Flosolver’ by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), ANUPAM by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), and Advanced Numerical Research and Analysis Group (ANURAG) by Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). And then came EKA, built by Tata’s Computational Research Laboratories, which at a point in time was ranked the fourth-fastest supercomputer in the world.

The long voyage in high-performance computing was not smooth sailing by any reckoning. It was plagued by several difficulties, including embargoes on critical components, architectural debates, make-versus-buy debates, loss of key talent to multinationals and bureaucratic hurdles.

Interestingly though, a direct correlation can be found between India’s forays into supercomputers and the technology denial play. After C-DAC successfully demonstrated the PARAM-8000 in 1990, the Los Alamos (Worlton) report concluded that supercomputers were not necessary to design nuclear weapons.

In 1991–92, C-DAC exported PARAM to Canada, Germany and Russia, while others, such as NAL’s Flosolver Mark III, and DRDOs’ PACE, matched the capabilities of US-made, mid-range workstations.

In December 1992, the US Office of Naval Research sent an official to Bangalore to assess Indian capabilities in supercomputing. In 1993, the US authorized the licensed conditional export of high-performance computers to several Indian institutions.

In April 1995, India placed parallel processing supercomputing on its list of items requiring an Indian export licence. In July 1995, the US began to review its supercomputers export controls and, in October 1995, further relaxed the export of computers to India. In 1998, C-DAC launched PARAM 10000, which demonstrated India’s capacity to build 100-gigaflop machines. In response, the US further relaxed its export controls. During the same year, Cray established a subsidiary in India; the same company had denied

India supercomputers in 1980s!


In 1995, the author, in his Lala Karamchand Thapar Memorial Lecture titled ‘India’s Emergence as a Global R&D Platform: The New Challenges and Opportunities’, had predicted that skill- based competition rather than product-based competition will become the key—products are actually transient mechanisms by which the market derives value from a company’s skill base and the company derives value from the market. With the abundance of highly skilled talent being available in India, companies will shift their R&D to India.

Dr. Manmohan Singh, the then finance minister of India, presided over the lecture. There were not many takers for the dream shared in that lecture. Today, that prediction has come true, with over 1,100 multinational R&D centres coming up in India, employing over 300,000 scientists, engineers and technologists doing cutting-edge research, design and development.6 It is Indian talent, Indian IQ that is generating significant fraction of their global intellectual property (IP) for these multinational companies.

The real driver for these companies to set up their R&D centres in India is, of course, the fact that they get highest intellectual capital for a dollar in India. The following table provides a quantitative calculation by looking at the 2020 research publications produced per dollar of R&D invested.7

Country GDP (current US$ Trillions), 2018 R&D Expenditure (% of GDP) R&D Spending (US$ Billions), 2018 Publications Count, 2018 Publications Count per Billion US$ R&D Spending
India 2.7 0.66% 17.82 1,35,788 7,620
UK 2.9 1.70% 49.30 97,681 1,981
China 13.9 2.14% 297.46 5,28,263 1,776
Germany 3.98 3.11% 123.78 1,04,396 843
USA 20.52 3.00% 615.60 4,22,808 687
Japan 5.04 3.22% 162.29 98,793 609

Leave alone the comparison with advanced nations, even compared to China, India is about four times better in terms of research publications per dollar. This driver will continue to push more companies to set up their R&D centres in India. One might argue that it is Indian IQ that is producing IP for multinational companies. What is the gain for India? Yes, there is a big gain.

This has also led to the phenomenon of brain drain turning to brain gain to brain circulation. A number of Indian scientists employed by these centres are returnees from abroad, who, after acquiring high-level research experience, have moved on to serve in the Indian industry or institutions. Indian STI has, thus, benefited.


Indian industry has done well in some sectors. For example, India’s dominance in generic drugs has given it the reputation of being the pharmacy of the world. The automobile industry is another example.

The Indian way of innovation has led to the introduction of new nomenclatures in the dictionary of innovation! These include phrases like frugal innovation, Gandhian innovation, MLM (more from less for more), reverse innovation, nanovation and even Indovation!

Some Indian innovations were driven by the powerful combination of scarcity and aspiration.

Some of these have been truly game-changing and are taught as case studies in leading business schools of the world. Aravind Eye Hospital doing high-quality cataract eye surgery at one-hundredth the cost for the same procedure in the US or the fact that Narayana Health can do a high-quality heart surgery at one-fiftieth the cost prevailing in the US,8 thanks to ‘workflow innovation’, are just as well-known as the Jaipur foot example of a high-performing $20 foot, which became a Time magazine cover story.

But some of the recent examples are even more stunning. These are innovations that already exist.9

  • Can we make high-quality but simple breast cancer screening available to every woman, at an extremely affordable cost of $1 per scan?
  • Can we make a portable, high-tech ECG machine that can provide reports immediately and at a cost of Rs 5 a test?
  • Can we make a robust test for mosquito-borne dengue, which can detect the disease in 15 minutes at a cost of $2 per test?

Another huge success was the unified payments interface, or UPI, which is the simplest, cheapest and most reliable peer-to-peer financial transaction mechanism. It was India’s lifeline during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

These examples show that India has the potential to be a leader in frugal innovation through the creation of public platforms, which prevents end-to-end monopoly and enhances the ability of start-ups to build specialized applications meeting the needs of specific segments of users.

These public digital platforms have not been built by traditional public sector agencies but by groups of technical experts on a low-cost and largely pro bono basis. The end product is inclusive public good, which is then managed and maintained by a government agency. The next generation of inclusive innovation will be triggered by creating the framework or scaffolding.

Inclusive innovation in India is truly diverse. An important component of this is innovation by the people for the people—grassroots innovation. Prof. Anil Gupta has been a pioneer of the grassroots innovation movement, and his book Grassroots Innovation10 describes the power and impact of grassroots innovation. What is critical is that the formal science and technology innovation being developed in the laboratories of universities and national organizations must partner with the grassroots innovation being developed by the people working in the laboratories of their life, be they farmers, artisans or school dropouts. This can be done if there is a strong faith in the concept that everyone is someone, and minds on the margin are not marginal minds. India has an opportunity to become a global leader in global grassroots innovation.


The share of the R&D investments by the private sector in the overall R&D spend remains low, with majority of investments, close to 70–75 per cent, coming from the government.11 These proportions are nearly reverse not only in advanced countries but also in countries like Korea, China, etc.

For India, ‘make in India’ has meant ‘assembled in India’ and not ‘invent and make in India’. The Chinese plan, on the other hand, has been not just ‘make in China’ but ‘create in China’. Indian industry has paid for this lack of innovation and aggressive innovation by China while competing right here in India. Let’s take a recent example.

Indian mobile phone manufacturers had begun dominating the domestic market in 2015, when home-grown brands held a 45 per cent smartphone market share. But from a mere 9 per cent market share in 2015, the Chinese brands reached 68 per cent share by the end of 2019, while the Indian brands plummeted to a mere 7.5 per cent by 2019.12 How did Indian brands lose their home turf despite having early movers’ advantages in a short span of four years?

Indian companies largely adopted a mere assembling and trading business model with no research or innovation. The Chinese undertook aggressive innovations, localization to reduce their tariff tax and transportation cost, innovative customization for local customers and large economies of scale. The lesson for us is simple—innovate or perish.


In 1895, Sir J.C. Bose invented the wireless. When asked to take patents, he refused to take them, saying that knowledge should be free. Marconi, who came much later, took patents. In 1998, an American company filed a patent on Basmati. Incidentally, the author led the team that fought the battle and got the patent revoked. Therefore, as far as India is concerned, the journey from Bose to Basmati, from 1895 to 1998, showed lack of understanding and preparedness of diverse aspects of intellectual property rights (IPR).13

The J.C. Bose case shows a lack of awareness of the importance of patenting. The Basmati case battle was a classic case of biopiracy, for which India had not taken safeguards in IPR terms, until the author came out with the TKDL Basmati battle on the wrong patent given to the US, which was fought under his leadership, following the earlier turmeric battle that he had led.

The Indian economy opened up only in 1991. Until then, India did just import substitution, copying and reverse engineering. No capacity in IPR creation and protection was developed. India’s lack of creation of original innovations has also shown up in the below-par performance in the creation of competitive IPR.14 For example, for the past few years, the Indian patents list is dominated by foreign companies.

In doing successful translational research, which is essential for completing a successful journey from mind to marketplace, India could have done better.

There are some exceptions. For instance, the development of the pharmaceutical sector demonstrates the successful translation of pharmacology as a science to the production of important and useful drugs. Not only indigenous manufacture based on imported technology but also manufacture based on the indigenous development of Covid-19 vaccines is a case in point. The emerging digital start-up ecosystem is also a strong example of scientific developments being applied to useful technologies. By and large, India has not done well. The author, in his book Reinventing India, has given several examples of such missed opportunities. For instance, Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT Madras developed wireless local loop technology. It got implemented first in Madagascar, Angola and Brazil before it was accepted in India. And there are several other examples, where discoveries made in India have created wealth, but not in India.

Why has India not done so well in the journey from mind to marketplace? It is because India lacks a robust national innovation ecosystem. Essential elements of a powerful innovation ecosystem comprise physical, intellectual and cultural constructs. Beyond mere research labs, it includes idea incubators, technology parks, a conducive IPR regime, enlightened public procurement systems, rigorous yet facilitating regulatory systems, academics who believe in not just ‘publish or perish’ but ‘patent, publish and prosper’, potent inventor–investor engagement, venture capital and passionate innovation leaders. Although late, by appreciating these weaknesses, an earnest effort in building a robust innovation ecosystem with all these building blocks has already started.


Before laying down a proposed pathway to regain Indian leadership in STI, we must get some first principles right. The author has dealt with the subject of the pathways for India to emerge as a global leader in STI.15

First, there is a mindset change that is required among all the players. That involves the government, R&D institutions and industry.

The decision-makers in both public and private sectors generally believe that India should wait till new technologies developed by global players reach a high level of maturity and scale so that India can then jump in and deploy them successfully without ‘wasting’ funds on potential failures. The general thinking is: let others make mistakes so that we will only use the most successful ones and thereby never fail. Unless this mindset changes fundamentally at the highest level of decision-making, STI in India will remain poorly valued and poorly funded.

India must move from the penchant of doing ‘first to India’ to ‘first to the world’. For instance, in the case of drug development, move from ‘fastest copier of molecules discovered abroad’ to ‘fastest creator of new molecules’. This type of original and breakthrough research in every field will also lead to India moving up the IPR ladder.

Second, Aatmanirbhar Bharat, meaning ‘self-reliant India’, is a national mandate today. And Aatmanirbhar Bharat would mean India becoming a part of the global supply chain and competing with the world by creating products that are made in India but also for the world. Our vision should move from ‘technological self-reliance’ to creating technology dominance in strategic areas, be it quantum computing or Web 3.0 or 6G or next generation green hydrogen technology. Aatmanirbhar with Atmavishwas, meaning self-reliance with self-confidence, with self-dignity, should be the focus.

Third, India must raise its aspirations far higher to create rapid and not gradual transformation. In the book From Leapfrogging to Pole-Vaulting, there is an emphasis for India to shift from reactive leapfrogging to proactive pole-vaulting through radical and sustainable transformation of an enterprise. India has been able to demonstrate that it can do it in some cases. We need more of these.


Can India pole-vault as a leading nation in STI? It certainly can. Following are the 10 tenets to make this happen.

  1. Strengthening Foundational (Interdisciplinary) Science
  2. Creating World Class IPR System
  3. Enhancing the Ease of STI in India
  4. Enhancing Investment in STI
  5. Embracing Risk for Derisking our Future
  6. Assuring Success through ASSURED Total Innovation
  7. Building Science- and Technology-led Entrepreneurship
  8. Leveraging Talent, Technology and Trust
  9. Building Scientific Temper
  10. Clever Balancing of Technology Options

Strengthening Foundational (Interdisciplinary) Science

Basic science matters for economic growth, and, indeed, there is ample evidence that public investment in basic research pays for itself. India must continuously raise the funding for basic science, for which the support must go up by an order of magnitude from the present levels. A Nobel Prize for work done in India was won by Sir C.V. Raman in 1930, and there has been none after that. But look at the other honours that are counted after the Nobel Prize, such as the Wolf Prize, Fields Medal, etc. These have eluded India as well. Even if we consider the next level of honours, such as election as Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the US National Academy of Science, they are so few. For instance, in engineering, where India is supposed to be strong, in the last 360 years of the history of the Royal Society, only three Indians have been elected for doing research in India, namely Prof. M.M. Sharma, Late Prof. Narasimha and the author!

A large enough or impactful size of resources is critical for success. Appropriate rewards for excellence achieved at a global level of accomplishment are equally critical.

Creating a World-Class IPR System

We have to recognize that IPR-driven industries contribute to national GDP in a significant manner. A European study has found that IPR-intensive industries in Europe generated around 30 per cent jobs during 2014–16 and contributed about 44.8 per cent to GDP.16

Skills in filing, reading and exploiting patents will be most crucial in the years to come.

We need to properly protect our inventions. We need to understand the implications of the patents granted to our competitors. Many of the patents written by our professionals could be easily circumvented.17

A robust IPR regime is needed for publicly funded academic research, which invariably has a public interest character, whereas industrial in-house R&D is primarily done by industry for private good. In the US, the Bayh–Dole Act (1980) showed a new direction for the results of the basic research produced in academic institutions. This was done, first, by creating the rights of patents (like property rights) based on the outcome of the academic research, which not only created new knowledge but also potentially commercializable knowledge. And second, by granting these rights through exclusive licences provided to for-profit firms. This significantly changed the relationship between the agents involved in the innovation ecosystem. The long-pending bills on the ‘Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property’ need to be passed, with the necessary provisions put in place that will promote the creation of wealth from the scientific research done in academic institutions.

Patenting is expensive. So, there must be dedicated national funds as well as special allocations to institutions. Skills in patent- related endeavours are very special. For example, interpreting patent data for identifying the areas where there is a freedom to operate, writing patents professionally so that the competitors will not easily bypass them, assessing the potential current and future value of an IP, etc., are all highly professional jobs. IP analytics is emerging as ‘the data science of analysing large amount of IP information, to discover relationships, trends and patterns for decision making’. There is increasing use of IP analytics methods, i.e., AI methods, machine learning and deep learning, to analyse intellectual property data. The major areas of impact are ‘knowledge management, technology management, economic value, and extraction and effective management of information’.18

There is a need for integrated IP asset management by taking a look at all the rights in a holistic manner—looking at patents, copyrights, trademarks, designs, domain names, trade secrets, etc. The pace of technical change is so high that there is not enough time to get ROI, and you have to extract value directly from IP quickly and inexpensively by proactively licensing non-core, non-strategic IP that has tactical value.

The IP strategy has to be aligned with corporate strategy. Our companies should embed intellectual assets and intellectual asset management into the organizational culture.

Enhancing the Ease of STI in India

The reality of India’s STI today is that it is shackled by bureaucracy. This situation was recognized with a promise to correct it in the speeches at the Indian Science Congress by successive prime ministers in the years 2000, 2011 and 2015, to which this author has been a personal witness.19 But despite these honest and good intentions by the top leadership, bureaucracy has stayed its course over the years.

The fundamental principle of bureaucracy is more about appearing to be right, process being more important than the performance, and also mistrust rather than trust. This creates overemphasis on and overburdening of processes, assuming that it will necessarily lead to desired outcomes. Overemphasis of procedures comes at the cost of speed. Indian scientists have to wait for many weeks to buy simple consumables and many months to buy equipment.20

The disbursement of research funding is almost always slow and often unreasonable. The problem gets compounded when one wants to do translational research that always requires speed and larger quantum of funding. Therefore, while the government wants scientific institutions to undertake useful research that can deliver visible and impactful outcomes with speed, the government’s bureaucracy makes it difficult to achieve these objectives.

Rigid and obtrusive regulatory systems, which are also non- efficient at the same time, can cause impediments in moving science-led innovation forward. Some companies have had to shift clinical research abroad, thus losing altogether India’s cost advantage in clinical trials. Similar is the case in other areas of life sciences; for example, in plant science, the research leading to genetically modified crops is getting held up due to the lack of a precautionary but a promotional regime. Strengthening of these regulatory systems, such that they do not compromise on standards and safety of people (patient first) but at the same time recognize the importance of maintaining India’s comparative advantage (India first) should be always borne in mind.

Science, which is an exploration at times, cannot be audited with the current systems that are used for infrastructure projects. An audit system that insists that each patent should be commercialized inhibits the patenting initiative. On the other hand, an overdrive on patenting systems will lead to unwarranted secrecy amongst the scientific community in free idea exchange, which is a hallmark of the true spirit behind open science. Therefore, a National Oversight Board with wise thought leaders of eminence, which is able to look at such issues ‘holistically’, should be put in place.

 Enhancing Investment in STI

As mentioned earlier, India’s investment in R&D as a percentage of GDP has remained at around 0.7 per cent during the past three decades. This has to be enhanced to the often-promised 2 per cent before 2030.

The most significant development in 2021 is the setting up of the National Research Foundation, with an allocation of Rs 50 billion for five years with a focus on promotion of research in universities and colleges. Hopefully, the individual science and tech agencies such as CSIR, Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), etc., will be allowed to continue to fund additional sector-specific research.

In order to boost innovation, the Union government needs to increase the weighted tax deduction. In 2018, the government reduced the weighted deduction on R&D from 200 per cent to 150 per cent, laying out an eventual plan of phasing out. This has made the industry unhappy.21

Recently, the GST Council decided to do away with concessional GST rate of 5 per cent applicable to scientific equipment and increasing it to ‘applicable rates’, meaning anywhere between 12 and 18 per cent. This has made scientists unhappy, since this means further reduction in budgets.22

While reversing such undesirable measures, the government must introduce other means such as target-based tax incentives, remodelling of patent tax box regimes, including incremental R&D-based tax incentives, and expatriate tax regimes must be introduced.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently added the slogan ‘Jai Anusandhan,’ meaning celebration of achievements in research. We are sure that measures such as the above, and more, will be taken to support research strongly at a national level.

Microfinancing through crowdfunding and philanthropic sources should be encouraged and incentivized, especially for supporting grassroots and frugal innovation-related projects and start-up enterprises.

Direct financial support to industry MSMEs with a mix of loan, equity, grants, matching grants, small business innovation grants (under fast-track mode), innovation vouchers, risk guarantees with special focus on high-risk projects must also be introduced.

Embracing Risk for Derisking Our Future

In science-led innovation, when a new idea is born, which leads to the design and development of a new product that the present market has not seen before, the ready provision of early-stage financing is crucial. Risk-financing in the form of venture capital, which acts as an intermediary for long-term investment and supports young start-ups, becomes critical. Such ‘ad’-venture capital created must support the young firms from their creation till they mature. India lacks such funds.

Governments elsewhere are known to take bold initiatives. For example, in the US, every department has to set aside 2.5 per cent of the funds to support innovative programmes— the US’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)23 by National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense are classic cases.24 These grants run up to $1 million or more. Many small start-ups are catalysed through such funding. The DBT, through its Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) programme, has been a huge propellant for the biotechnology industry. Other departments and ministries need to introduce systems that will support really high-risk cutting-edge science- based innovation. The New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI) launched by CSIR, in the year 2000, focussed on creating entirely new technology leading to new products with an aim to create new markets. This was India’s biggest public–private partnership in post-independent India.

Assuring Success through ASSURED Total Innovation

Further, what we require is not just technology innovation but ‘total’ innovation. This must include technology innovation, business model innovation, workflow innovation, system delivery innovation, process innovation, organizational innovation and policy innovation. In fact, it is the innovative combination of these that create scalable and sustainable businesses.

Building Science- and Technology-Led Entrepreneurship

Science- and technology-led entrepreneurship is not only critical for creating, shaping and sustaining the future industrial sectors of the nation but also for delivering the benefits of scientific research and development to society at large.

Every effort must be made to create a nurturing and supportive environment for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ideas to flourish and thrive. Towards this end, it should be the endeavour to encourage entrepreneurs by reducing systemic risks, uncertainties and barriers for new businesses, incentivize private investment in new ventures, develop a rich and supportive innovation ecosystem, and provide funding support for early- stage innovation.

Leveraging Talent, Technology and Trust

World-class talent in STI will require high-class training in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Further, India will have to substantially increase the number of full-time equivalents such as doctoral, post-doctoral students committed to research, and that will require enhancing the talent pool by including significantly more women in STEM training.

There is a need for rapid capacity-building in exponential technology, from applied AI to blockchain to quantum computing to edge computing to affective computing, which is emerging as an interdisciplinary field that interfaces computer science, psychology and cognitive science. The same is the case with technologies in new biology, new energy, new materials, etc.

As regards talent and technology, young start-ups are turning out to be a valuable resource for talent and technology, provided they are backed up with trust. The government has created laudable initiatives to support the start-up ecosystem within the country. One of the key drivers and motivators should be creating bold public procurement systems for start-ups in government purchases. ‘The Swiss Challenge’ approach to such procurement is one such enabler. It is a method of bidding, often used in public projects, in which an interested party initiates a proposal for a contract or the bid for a project. The government then puts the details of the project out in the public and invites proposals from others interested in executing it. On the receipt of these bids, the original contractor gets an opportunity to match the best bid.25 We have seen some of the progressive steps that some states have taken in terms of mandating government departments with public procurement from start-ups, easing the tendering processes, etc. These need to be widespread.

Indian start-ups are doing very well. To the last count, there were 106 unicorns,26 which means a market capitalization crossing $1 billion.27 What is encouraging is that almost half of these unicorns are by founders who have not studied in Ivy League institutions. They come from institutions from tier 2 or tier 3 cities, and some are even college dropouts. This implies a democratization of opportunity.

However, most of the start-ups appear to be on consumer tech and not deep tech. A recent study highlighted that only 4 per cent of the investments have been in deep tech start-ups. This needs to change. The challenges faced by start-ups exploring high science- or technology-led innovation are described by the author.28 They need to be addressed.

The government must have tax exemption policies, excise duty reductions, policies to provide massive public procurement support for the early-stage market seeding and market expansion of such products. Amitabh Kant has edited a book titled The Path Ahead: Transformative Ideas for India29 on transformative ideas that can change India. In that book, the author has provided a framework for such a bold and visionary public procurement policy.

The recent steps to create city-specific knowledge clusters, such as the Pune Knowledge Cluster, are very welcome. These innovation clusters are sector-specific and bring all innovation players with domain expertise—from academy, industry, finance, etc.—together. There should be hundreds of research or technology parks funded through public–private partnerships.

Building Scientific Temper

Progress in STI will mean nothing if India continues to be plagued by superstition and dogmas. India must adopt a scientific temper as a way of life, in terms of both thinking and acting. It must encompass individual, societal and political levels. It must consistently use the principles embodied in scientific method, involving the application of logic. Discussion, argument and analysis have to become vital parts of this scientific temper. Elements of fairness, equality and democracy have to be integrally built into it.

The assertions about scientific temper continue to find a place in every STI policy. Most recently, there was a reassertion of this in the Scientific Social Responsibility Policy brought out by the present government in September 2019.30 It made a specific statement on scientific temperament committing to ‘an approach to human and social existence that rejects dogma or assertion that contradicts empirical evidence or lacks a scientific basis, that habit surely questions everything, that privileges logic and rationality and is consistently self-critical.’

The question is what actions will make this possible. For India@2030 to become a nation with a fully scientifically tempered population, the author proposes five transformational tenets that can be made actionable in the decade of the 2020s.

  • For students: from treating science as a subject to science as a way of life, and also not just remaining students of science but becoming ambassadors of science in society.
  • For citizens: not just remaining consumers but promoting and practising citizen science.
  • For civil society: changing the role from delivering services to spreading scientific temper.
  • For media: changing from sensationalism to sensible science journalism.
  • For cultural transformation: changing from obedience to openness and also from censorship to freedom of expression.

Clever Balancing of Technology Options

In India, we always considered the ‘make’ or ‘buy’ options, which unfortunately got converted to ‘importing’ and ‘import substituting’ in the closed economy that we had. India has to carefully consider not just the two options of ‘making’ or ‘buying’ but also ‘buying to make better’, ‘making to buy better’ and ‘making it together’.

‘Making’ has been a preferred course of action, but one cannot make everything. Also, if one has to reach a high rate of economic growth, then other alternatives have to be sought. ‘Buying’ the knowledge embedded in a technology or a machinery is possible when the owner is willing to part with it. Technological advancement is a continuous process. The base technology is designated as Mark I. Incorporation of advanced performance features raises it to Mark II. State-of-the-art technology with the most advanced features makes it into a Mark III technology, which gives the owner a competitive advantage. Even in the post-liberalization era, India has realized that when Mark III technologies are available with the owner, one has managed to discuss only Mark II and one has been lucky to get Mark I, since no one wants to give away a competitive advantage.

Let us realize that India is not being looked at as a bottomless pit of demand but as a global competitor.

Smart countries like Japan opted for the third option of ‘buying to make better’ route. They acquired knowledge through licensing, absorbed it and developed superior products, which competed with the best in the world. India did not do that; we kept on buying and buying.

We have not always followed the fourth option of ‘making to buy better’. Familiarity with a knowledge or a technology domain gives one an advantage in negotiations, strategic positioning and so on. It is only then one can negotiate for Mark III and get it from a position of strength.

For India, ‘making it together’ is the preferred option in the long run. This means creating knowledge networks between all knowledge centres in the academic world, national laboratories, etc., and our productive sector.

India must have a short-, medium- and long-term plan on what is the dynamic mix that they will create of the five options, namely buy, make, buy to make better, make to buy better and making it together.


If the 10 pathways elaborated above are followed, Indian STI@2030 would have the following 10 features:

  • India will create science that will provide solutions, technology that will bring transformation and innovation that will have impact.
  • India will create science that will lead and not follow.
  • Indian innovations will be disruptive and not always incremental.
  • India will not be just a land of ideas but also a land of opportunities, and therefore, it would move from the current state of brain drain to brain gain to brain circulation.
  • Indian STI will be risk-taking and not just risk averse.
  • Make in India will not just mean assembled in India but invented and made in India, and not just for India, but for the world.
  • India will create products with unprecedented cost/ performance features and not just marginal cost or future improvements.
  • India will create ‘next practice’ in STI, which others will follow, and it will not just opt for ‘best practice’, following others.
  • Indian STI will dedicate itself to making sure that no one is left behind. It will become a global leader in disruptive and inclusive innovation, which can bring in rapid and radical yet sustainable transformation in India.
  • In India’s STI journey, it has moved from a follower to a fast follower so From there, it will not just leapfrog but pole-vault to a new future as a proud leading nation in STI.


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