Dr. R. A. Mashelkar
The tasks ahead of us will be decided essentially by the future of the India that we foresee in 20 years. It is important to envisage a future for the India of 2025. It must be realised, however, that visualising the future could be a very hazardous task. Twentyfive years ago, there was no WTO, no European Union, no AIDS, no laptop, no Internet, no mobile phone, and so on. Yet, all of them dominate our lives today. No one would have predicted any of these 25 years ago. Therefore, it is difficult to hazard a guess as to what India will be in 2025.
Despite this, predictions have been made about India’s future. Goldman Sachs has predicted that by 2050, the US, India and China will be the three topmost economies in the world. In a recent paper that I have written in the prestigious journal Science, I myself predicted that if India plays its cards right, then India could be the global knowledge production centre for the world in 2025.
What gives me this confidence? I have often said India’s future is ‘IT’. And by that, I do not mean IT as in Information Technology but IT as in ‘Indian Talent’. It is this talent in all walks of life, including in science and technology that is going to give us the leadership position.
Just see, what is happening around us. During the last six or seven years, more than 150 major companies from the US and Europe have set up their research, design and development centres in India. They include big names such as Boeing, Daimler Chrysler, DuPont, General Electric, General Motors, Intel, IBM, Microsoft, Siemens, Unilever and so on. Some of them employ 2000 to 3000 researchers. Why is this so?
The answer was given by the legendary Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric (GE) during the inauguration of GE’s R&D Centre in Bangalore. He said "India is a developing country but it is a developed country as far as its intellectual capital is concerned. We get the best intellectual capital per dollar here".
This attraction of high intellectual capital per dollar is driving another phenomenon: The phenomenon of ‘brain drain’ turning into a phenomenon of ‘brain gain’.
The world acknowledges today the high calibre of Indian scientists, engineers and technologists. The obvious proof of this is the fact that while products of a few other Indian enterprises command international prestige and price, the products of our higher educational institutions are in great demand internationally. The contribution of Indians to the growth of science and technology in developed countries has been widely appreciated. Can we not then garner all these energies and contribute to building the new India in a Team India spirit? I believe we can.
I expect Indian science to achieve many milestones within the next 25 years. For example, we have already achieved the Green Revolution. But I expect India to move forward to achieve the Evergreen Revolution by ushering in new biotechnology. This would mean moving from Green Revolution to Gene Revolution. India should become a country that not only provides food to its own people but also to those poor and developing nations around the world that have a food scarcity.
In health technology, I would expect India to scale many heights. In the area of drugs and pharmaceuticals, so far, Indian companies grew by copying the drugs that were discovered by the western world. But Indian industry has moved from imitation to innovation now. This will have a big pay off.
It is true that so far not a single new drug coming from India has captured the world market. However, I expect India to come out with several new drugs, which will assume a dominant position. Is this possible? I do believe so. As we know, through CSIR’s New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI) Programme, a new TB molecule has been already developed by Lupin in association with so many other Indian institutions. After Rifampycin, this is the first new molecule on TB to arrive on the scene after 1963. Inspiring examples like this give us the confidence that we can do it. The rich nations and multinational companies are not investing in drugs for the diseases of the poor such as tuberculosis, malaria, etc. By 2025, I expect India to become a major provider to the developing world of the drugs for the poor.
We have remarkable achievements in information technology. By 2008, 35 per cent of our exports are expected to be based on software, and all this will be achieved by 6,00,000 young people, whose current age is just 26 years. I expect that India will build on this platform and develop the next generation IT industry, which will be based on not just providing routine services or mundane or offshore jobs but based on strong, new IT products. By 2025, I expect India to earn the reputation of a country, which has used IT not only for creating wealth but also for a meaningful social transformation.
Let me explain what I mean. I expect information technology to make a major dent in tele-medicine, tele-education etc. Already ISRO’s EDUSAT (Educational Satellite) is designed to support education through low-cost segments and to reach the un-reached people of India. I expect it to bring quality education to all parts of the country. Imagine, teachers from Pune University delivering a lecture which can be heard in real time in Samastipur in Bihar. We can enlighten the entire nation through the power of IT.
Indian biotechnology industry is presently growing at the rate of 40 per cent per year. If this growth continues, just as in IT, we can become a biotech superpower. Our key advantage will be in agro-biotechnology, health biotechnology and industrial biotechnology. I expect that in many areas we will make major breakthroughs.
Stem cell research has clinical application in heart, eye, pancreas, liver, kidney diseases and spinal injury. India may emerge as a major leader in stem cell research considering the comparative advantages we have.
I expect a major shift in our energy consumption pattern. For instance, with oil on its way to $100 per barrel, non-renewable energy will get a new thrust. The use of bio-fuels will not only reduce our dependence on import of oil but will also bring the benefits of environment, ecology and employment. We have 186 million hectares of wasteland. If we plan well, then by 2025, it is possible to bring 10 to 20 per cent of this under cultivation of plants that can yield bio-fuel. This is capable of providing a major fillip to India’s quest for a clean fuel.
In the strategic areas of space, defence and atomic energy, we will achieve many milestones. For example, our nuclear scientists have done us proud by having some spectacular success in fast breeder reactors. They have a dream to provide 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2020, making India a leading nation in the use of nuclear energy. I expect them to fulfil this mission and that too with the distinctive stamp of our own technology.
As we grow in stature and power, countries like the US are already changing their stance. Both the US and recently the UK, have agreed to be partners with us in all civilian nuclear energy programmes. Others will follow, too. These nations would soon start realising that rather than putting sanctions on India, if they would become partners with us, then it is not only good for them but for the whole world.
I have the reputation of being a dangerous optimist. When I delivered the presidential address during the Indian Science Congress held in Pune in 2000, I had painted a picture of our future and said, "Indian brain drain has been completely reversed. In fact, India is in an enviable position of having a queue of American and European scholars waiting to join its unique global knowledge production centres in India". This looked like a crazy dream. But, just see, what is happening around us.
Out of 2400 professionals in GE’s R&D Centre in Bangalore, 700 of them are young Indians, who have decided to leave the US and join this Centre. I spoke to the President of NASSCOM, Dr Kiran Karnik, recently. He told me that during the last three years, more than 25,000 professionals have returned from abroad, around 90 per cent of them being IT professionals. I expect this trend to continue as India becomes a land of opportunity and provides better personal and professional comfort levels to its returnees.
Among all the tasks ahead of us, two are of primary importance for me. The first is to use the power of science and technology for the uplift of the poor and downtrodden and not just a privileged few. Secondly, we must make scientific temper a part of intellectual, emotional, social and cultural life of our masses, not just a select few. If this happens, then India would become a model for other countries to emulate. I have no doubt that this dream will turn into a reality.
— The writer is Director-General, CSIR..