January 3, 2004

PM's speech at the inauguration of the 91st session of the Indian Science Congress

“It is a great pleasure to be here with all of you for the 91st Session of the Indian Science Congress. I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year. My special greetings to all the distinguished scientists from the other parts of the globe.

I am as pleased as all of you to know that our Respected Rashtrapatiji, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, will be coming here on the 3rd day to grace this Session. Being a reputed scientist himself, he is a source of great inspiration for our scientific community as well as India’s ignited young minds.

I am happy that this Science Congress is being held in Chandigarh. This youthful city is fast turning into a regional hub for high-technology scientific research, development and education. It serves as the capital of two of our prosperous States, Punjab and Haryana, which together symbolize the tremendous contribution made by our agriculture scientists to transforming India from a food importing country a few decades ago to a food exporting country now.

India’s success in achieving self-reliance in food production is only one of the numerous achievements made possible by our science and technology establishment. Indeed, today there is not a single area of India’s socio-economic development that does not bear the signature of Indian S&T in some form or the other. In the years to come, this signature will look even more bold and pleasing as we script the story of making India a Developed Nation by 2020.

Our scientists are exploring the heights of space and the depths of oceans. India is now one of the leading nations in developing and using space technology for the benefit of humanity. Even developed countries are using our launch vehicles to send their satellites into space. Our ocean scientists have been making impressive strides in harnessing gas hydrates, a vast energy resource in the ocean bed.

A latecomer in industrial R&D, India now ranks the highest among all countries in the rate of growth of patent filings, which is now around 300% per year. In this context, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has done India proud by securing, under the Patents Cooperation Treaty, No. 1 position as the highest filer of patents from all developing countries, including South Korea, China and Brazil. We want to make India a place that can compete with the best in the world in terms of generation of intellectual property and its commercialization on sound business principles.

The results of our R&D in the medical and pharmaceutical fields are attracting international attention and acclaim. Indian companies are providing low-cost drugs to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. There was a time, not very long ago, when Indian pharma industry survived mainly by working on known molecules. Now nearly a dozen Indian companies are inventing their own molecules. They are recruiting hundreds of PhDs. Indeed, their complaint is that there is a short supply of PhDs with the right skills in India.

India’s progress in biotechnology shows how quickly we are matching global standards of excellence in a frontier area of science. For this, I compliment the Department of Biotechnology and our many dynamic Indian biotech companies, which are poised to ride the bio-industrial revolution now on the anvil. India is also actively helping other developing countries in this area. I have very recently inaugurated, with the President of Syria, a National Biotechnology Centre in Damascus. I am going to Islamabad today to take part in the SAARC summit. I shall discuss with my counterparts how we can expand regional cooperation in diverse areas of science and technology for mutual benefit.

The spirit of innovation and excellence is now spreading to many other areas as well, notably in automobiles and auto-components. Five decades ago, it was a British car, Morris Oxford, which was sold as Indian Ambassador on Indian roads. Today we see a role reversal – it is an Indian car, Indica, which is sold as City Rover on British roads.

Undoubtedly, India’s most visible success in recent years has been in the field of information technology. The success lies not only in our steadily rising software exports, but also in the rapidly growing opportunities in outsourcing of services. Here again, it is not just the low-value and low-skill services that are coming to India. Rather, India is rapidly emerging as a hub for development of cutting-edge technologies by reputed multinational companies.

I have chosen to highlight some of these developments just to underscore the point that India, and India’s S&T establishment, are no longer what they were even 10-15 years ago. The scale of achievement has completely changed. The level of self-confidence has sharply risen.

The situation presents two distinctive features, which were previously absent. Firstly, a strong alliance -- moving on the four wheels of science, technology, business and government – has been put in place. This has greatly toughened the competitive muscle of the Indian economy and also improved service delivery in the social sector. We will have to constantly strengthen this alliance to meet the challenges of the present and the future.

The second change is equally striking. Unlike in the past, top-notch Indian scientists and technology developers are no longer of the view that they can produce high-quality work only by going out of India. A significant number of Indian scientists and engineers, who had gone to western countries for study and work, are now returning to India. This is because attractive opportunities for challenging R&D activities are being created in India itself.

Some observes have described this phenomenon as “From Brain Drain to Brain Gain”. One can be sure that such opportunities will vastly grow in number and variety in the years to come. I, therefore, urge our universities, other academic institutions, research laboratories, and public and private sector industry to take up enrichment of India’s human resources in S&T as an urgent national mission. We should also devise a plan to incentivise world-class scientific talent of Indian origin to return to India in significant numbers and earn international laurels by working in our research institutions.

There is much to feel good about the recent achievements of India and her S&T establishment. Nevertheless, we simply cannot ignore the daunting challenges that still confront us. These challenges are well known. It is also well known that the nation expects effective science and technology inputs for overcoming these challenges.

For example, scarcity of water has become a serious issue in several parts of the country. I would like our S&T establishment to develop low-cost and easy-to-handle technologies for water conservation and recycling. We should also find ways of making desalination of seawater more common.

In our bid to increase the use of renewable sources of energy, we look for R&D breakthroughs that will help make solar energy affordable and scale up the use of bio-fuels.

Similarly, we are keenly expecting biotechnology to provide affordable solutions to two of the biggest challenges in health care – namely, cure and prevention of numerous infectious and non-infectious diseases; and improving the nutritional status of the poor, especially the women and children.

We have to vigorously introduce S&T inputs in our agriculture, cottage and small-scale industries, as well as services in the informal sector. After all, making these economic activities more productive and profitable is the key to unleashing their huge potential for employment generation. These and other social goals are clearly articulated in the new Science and Technology Policy, which I announced last year from this very forum. From wealth generation in a knowledge economy to achieving food and health security for all, and from technology-intensive national security to disaster prevention and management, the S&T Policy covers a wide spectrum of concerns and commitments. I would like the Science Congress to annually review the progress made in implementing this Policy and suggest correctives.

In doing so, the motto for every institution that is a part of India’s S&T establishment – indeed, the motto for all the scientific and non-scientific personnel working in it – should be pursuit of excellence. I am happy to note that this is also the theme for this year’s Science Congress.

Excellence is difficult to define, but easy to recognize when one sees it. However, it will not do to have only islands of excellence. We should strive for excellence in the entire S&T establishment – indeed in every activity of nation building. I am reminded here of what a famous thinker once said, “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy...neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

As you are aware, our Government not only checked the alarming decline in funding of science and technology, but also has steadily increased it in the past five years. I assure you that we will continue to raise it further towards our goal of 2 per cent of GDP. However, in this endeavour, we should make it attractive for the private sector to further increase its share. For this, we should encourage public-private partnership in the widest range of scientific programmes and projects. We should adopt intelligent and result-oriented initiatives, such as CSIR’s New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative, in which over 50 private sector companies and 150 institutions have already participated.

However, all of you would agree that excellence cannot be achieved simply by increasing levels of funding. I am deeply disappointed that, in several projects and programmes, even available funds are not sanctioned and used in time. In my address at the Lucknow Science Congress in 2001, I had called for an end to bureaucratism in our S&T institutions and overhauling of procedures for clearances and approvals. I would like this to be implemented effectively and without any further delay.

More than in any other endeavour, time is a precious resource in R&D. We should be in a hurry to achieve results that can effectively address our national priorities and make the world to take notice. Ultimately, good science is done by good scientists, not by committees or administrators, however essential they may be. Therefore, to fill up the ranks of Indian researchers with great scientists, there is only one way to go. We have to attract, nurture and retain the brightest and most talented minds, especially young and dreaming minds, in large numbers. Therefore, we simply cannot let extraneous factors obstruct the onward march of Indian science.

This New Year has a special significance for Indian science. I compliment the Department of Science and Technology for declaring 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness. I recently flagged off a special train, called Vigyan Rail, which will travel to different parts of our country. May hundreds of such creative programmes be organized throughout the year to create mass enthusiasm about science and technology and pride in India’s achievements in this important field.

May the Chandigarh session become yet another successful milestone in the illustrious history of the Indian Science Congress.”