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Innovation And India’s Role In The Knowledge Economy


Dear friends, let me share with you "Innovation ecosystem to empower Indian innovations". I will discuss about few instances of Indian innovations.

Innovation in IT: We all know about the recent rise of India?s IT sector. Today the IT sector employs more than 2 million persons and contributes roughly 25% of India?s exports. The IT sector also contributes around 4% to India?s GDP. When you consider that the IT sector employs just 0.2% of the population, you can see that the IT sector is contributing many times its share to the Indian economy. Indeed it is not wrong to say that the IT sector, perhaps single-handedly, changed the world?s perception about India. IT is not the only area where India is innovative.

Innovation in Consumer items: The sachet of shampoo that costs just Rs. 2, or about five cents! Imagine producing something for five cents that includes not just the aluminum for the sachet, but also its contents, not to mention the cost of distribution. Yet these sachets can be found everywhere in India.

Innovation in Cell phone Business model: Today villagers are all speaking on cell phone. India has the cheapest telephone rates in the world, for both land lines as well as cell phones. India also has the fastest growing telecom market in the world, adding roughly eight million cell phones every month! This amazing growth has been made possible because the Indian cell phone service providers have a number of innovative business models, such as free incoming calls, prepaid calling cards, etc. We should remember that innovation in business models is also innovation!

Innovation in healthcare: Next innovation let me focus on the "Jaipur foot," which was originally made for about $ 28, by itself a very low price. But the DRDO applied its technical competence to the problem, and designed a still lighter and more durable foot called FRO using carbon-composite material. The Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad also developed a very low-cost "stent" that brought down the price of stents by more than 90% to the Indian consumers. Similarly, the cost of a heart bypass surgery in India is just about $ 3 ? 5K, compared to more than $ 50K abroad.

Innovation in Election system : India?s democratic society also benefits from Indian innovation. We see here an Electronic Voting Machine used in our elections. Foreigners are often surprised to find out that in Indian elections, 100% of the voting is through EVMs. In recent times doubts have been raised about the reliability of the software used in electronic voting machines in some other countries. Our EVMs are based on push button technology (rather than touch screen technology) which makes them absolutely tamper-proof. Moreover, it is also possible to have a "recount" in the case of close contests, without any difficulty. In some regions, Election Commission carrying EVMs on elephant back particularly in Northeastern area is by itself an innovation in transportation.

Innovation in Nuclear Science: On 11 May 2008, I was with the members of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) on the occasion of the National Technology Day celebrations-2008 and distributed the DAE Awards-2006. I have seen 400 scientists who have shown excellent performance in Science, Engineering and Technology in Department of Atomic Energy. Their innovations in the nuclear science and technology will have tremendous potential; I would like to particularly mention a few, such as

  • Carbide fuel processing in the nuclear Fast reactors at IGCAR, DAE; 
  • reduced use of uranium to attain the same level of performance in power generation by DAE;
  • Indigenous design and development of an unique variable low energy positron beam system to enable depth-resolved defect studies at surfaces and interfaces of materials; 
  • BHABHA-TRON ? the first indigenous tele-cobalt machine; 
  • design and development of optically pumped infrared molecular gas lasers producing output at 16 micron for molecular uranium isotope separation are some the innovative research which I have witnessed.

Innovation in other Science and Technology departments: Dear friends, our scientists in multiple scientific departments have worked for self-reliance and have succeeded. Some of the innovative examples such as 

  • Making the cryogenic engine; Successful launch of 10 satellites in one go and Successful Satellite Recovery Experiment by ISRO; 
  • Anti Ballistic Missile System and Indigenous Ring Laser Gyro based INS with high impact accuracy in Agni-III by DRDO
  • Flight control system for LCA by ADA 
  • Are some of the innovative achievements which stand today as witness to Indian innovations in science and technology.

Innovation in Rural transformation through Jatropha : Let me now focus at the innovation in rural transformation through Jatropha. Rani-dhera a tribal village in Chhattisgarh state which was steeped in darkness after sun set has been lighted with Jatropha oil drawn straight from the seeds. The villages are paying rupees 20 per light per month. This innovation has been promoted by Department of New and Renewable energy sources in partnership with an NGO. Rani-Dhera is bubbling with activities and per capita income of the village has gone up due to the availability of power and light. 

One of the unique studies carried out by CSIR through the collaborative effort of over 150 scientists has lead to innovation in Genetic mapping of Indian Population.

Innovation in Genetic Mapping of Indian Population: Indian Statistical institute, Kolkata and anthropologists from various institutes of India, and the Centre for Genomic Applications, Delhi, has generated genetic information on over 4000 genetic markers from over 1000 bio-medically important and Pharmaco-genetically relevant genes in reference populations encompassing diversity of populations from across the country. This study has resulted in clear genetic profile of our populations, explicitly indicating that there is a strong association between genetic and linguistic profiles in India and that there are significant genetic differences in the frequencies of disease-associated genetic markers. For example, this study has revealed that a known protective genetic marker against HIV-1 is virtually absent in India, implying the absence of natural or genetic protection against HIV-AIDS in our country.

Similarly friends, the industry and service sectors have shown marked growth and our economy is in the ascent phase right from 2003. All this clearly shows that the country?s landmark decision to become a nuclear weapon state has given strength to the nation. The confidence in the country has increased the spirit that "We can do it". India has always risen to the occasion when we are constrained, the technological sanction after 1998 has not deterred our progress but has strengthened the minds of every Indian to become self-reliant in critical technologies. We should understand our own strength first in the scientific and technological achievements that we have made so far and give confidence and encouragement to the scientists who are working towards making the nation proud.

So can we ask: What drives innovation in India? India has a unique blend of ingredients. We have a shortage of capital, so we have to be very innovative to stretch our limited capital. By and large, the general perception is that the government agencies are not able to deliver citizen services effectively, at any level, be it national, state, or regional. But fortunately, we have had democracy, so that individual citizens have been free to evolve local solutions for local problems. Until now our local innovations have not been able to spread outside India excepting in certain sectors such as pharmaceutical, Banking, IT Enabled Services, Software and Automobiles and recently the nano car. Now is the time, for all of us to work together to make Indian innovation to become globalized and have a world wide impact.

Author: APJ Abdulkalam  

Published: June 25, 2008

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