Prof. Ashutosh Sharma
Secretary, DST

India needs to grow at a rate of at least 8 percent for the next 30 years to eliminate poverty. If that is our goal, not all of this growth will come from rural sector. For example agriculture grows at about 4 percent. This could be supplemented by taking relevant micro industry to rural areas. There is a whole suit of technologies which use local resources to satisfy local needs for rural areas. We need to streamline them for growth of the rural sector. Innovation ecosystem is important for all of us.

In 5 to 10 years from now, we need to turn technology into innovation. Department of Science & Technology (DST) have a new programme called NIDHI (National Initiative for Development and Harnessing Innovations) which covers the entire chain of innovation. We need to identify innovations and showcase them. Additionally, we also need to train and mentor innovators so as to convert ‘Ideas’ into prototypes. Fellowship, support as well as seed fund support is needed for the people who want initiate start-ups.

NIDHI focuses on building a seamless and innovation driven entrepreneurial ecosystem especially by channelizing youth towards it and thereby bringing in positive impact on the socio-economic development of the country. The program aims to provide technological solutions not only to the pressing needs of the society but also targets to create new avenues for wealth and job creation, thereby boosting the economy of India.

This is a holistic way to address the problem of innovation ecosystem. We need to connect start ups to industries where they can receive early mentoring and lot of that is already happening. Already 200 start-ups have been connected with big companies. There is a Technology Park being supported in IIT, Gandhi Nagar and our goal is to make a new Technology Park every year. So, 10 years from now, we would have 10 huge technology parks, which can allow young people to walk in there, try their ideas, generate wealth for themselves and jobs for others.

India needs to give a huge push on “inclusive innovation”, which is promoting innovation eco-system not just at the top of the pyramid, which it is already doing through similar programmes.  We have to reach out to the bottom of the pyramid, which includes students in middle school and in high school so that they become great champions of innovation 5 or 10 years from now. DST will reach 5 lakh schools in the country, select top 2 ideas from each school and help develop them. Then we will have 1 million ideas to start with.

Out of these 1 million ideas, one hundred thousand would be converted to prototype which means we actually pay these kids, mentor them, train them, give them workshop facilities and thereby help converting the top ideas into prototypes, get the idea patent and so on. So, it is going to be hugely exciting, very transformative for these school kids and it can fuse the gospel of innovation, scientific excitement, into school kids.

DST has tried to bring out the best in women scientists by intervening at certain points of their career like helping them get from school to college through its schemes. It must be noted that 63% of the presentations in the recently held National Children’s Science Congress were by girls.  However, we have noticed increase in their drop-outs as we go along the education chain – from school to college, to PhD and then to jobs. Therefore, we need different interventions at different points of their career and this is what DST wants to do starting this year.

The other major challenges are how to increase the number of ‘quality’ scientists. China has about 5 to 10 times the number of scientists that we have. The per capita scientists of most technologically advanced countries are 20 to 50 times larger than that in India.

In terms of quantity of the output of basic research, we are doing rather well. We are number 6 in the world and growing very fast. We are growing at a rate of 40 percent when rest of the world is going at 4 percent. But a lot of improvement is needed in quality of basic research that we put out, including the enhancement in creativity and the innovative element in basic research. In terms of quality of basic research, DST has introduced a new programme through Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), which is called “High Risk High Gain” research.

Research evidence has well captured the numbers related to imperfections and so on. The gap between quality and quantity needs to be bridged. We need to start on new areas of basic research that would secure our future. Another challenge is to use results of fundamental research to develop technology and innovations. Around the problems, related to energy, water, health, environment, climate, and so on. Now these are highly interdisciplinary topics. So we have to get everybody together. Our ministries, Departments and S&T Agencies have to work together to solve these real problems.