SPECIAL PLACE OF -BIO-SCIENCES
For the purposes of this article, there are four reasons why the bio-sciences have a special place in India’s policymaking.
The first is that the Green Revolution was brought about by the application of the bio-science of plant-breeding; the elimination of the scourges of small-pox and polio has been brought about by the mass-application of the bio-science of vaccines. Only the grandparents of the present tweet generation know that these are no ordinary achievements.
The second reason is that there is nothing in bio-science, or the technology of the delivery of science-based healthcare, that requires their embodiments to be marketable commodities. If it has been made so, it is by choice in a particularly contentious arena of political economy.
The third reason is that, alone of the post-colonial countries, and almost unique amongst the others, India has a full-fledged executive. The Central government’s Department of Biotechnology, in its existence and its programmes of innovation support in the bio-technology industry, has been more than instrumental in the growth of that industry in India, and its export performance.
The fourth is that the sub-Himalayan regions, the Northeast and the Western Ghats are bio-diverse and bio-fragile. These have been mapped by survey organisations that have been in existence since before Independence. In almost every case of damage to those fragile eco-systems, with adverse effects on the lives and subsistence of whole communities that are integral to those eco-systems, the damage—even catastrophic—has been the result of the political economy that drove the ignoring of science-based predictions of the likely effects of those decisions.
NEXT STEPS IN EMPLOYMENT GENERATING TECH -DEPLOYMENT
We do have schemes of supporting innovation—for e.g. through the Technology Development Board (see: http://tdb.gov.in/about-us/)—executed by existing industry and potential entrepreneurs, backed by the expertise in academic institutions and national laboratories. Without any legislative effort, these schemes can, and should, be re-directed towards the development and field-demonstration of employment-generating and sustaining schemes.
For example, a new technology initiative supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) under its composites mission, has resulted in bamboo-reinforced composite roofing material—that is ab-initio rain proof—developed by a Manipur entrepreneur that has found a market in as far-away as Bengaluru.
CAPITALISM OF THE COLLECTIVE
One knows of many private enterprises that practise what may be called “welfare capitalism” that are making profits at levels that are considered moral and justified by the community-sized markets they serve.
What is required, therefore, is executive re-direction of existing schemes—no extra money is required for demonstration programmes—that can be then taken further by the states themselves, with some subvention by the Centre in such states as those of the Northeast, where both the near-unique agro-climatic conditions and the need to upgrade local skills may call for such subvention. These schemes can, and should, be then adopted by the states and geared almost wholly to an overwhelming and urgent goal of public policy—the creation of productive workplaces.
It is not difficult to devise tangible incentive schemes for corporates to engage in such schemes as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments. A responsible and responsive Capitalism-of-the-Collective requires these kinds of initiatives.
All of the above will take imaginative programming and administrative acumen—both, we must admit, in very short supply. So, these schemes and the means of their execution will need to made an integral part of the curriculum of the IAS and state administrative cadre training schools, with inter-state field trips to demonstrate what can, and has, been done, even if only on a pilot scale.
LAST WORDS ON -TECHNICAL EDUCATION
The majority of our massively large, poor communities are born into networks of inter-relations that form the fabric of social circumstances and physical environment that they live in, or somehow negotiate to live by.
Our demographics and agrarian political economy will require productive workplaces for millions of youth in off-farm employment, some permanent, some seasonal—which seasons will also likely alter their cycles with inevitable climate change.
To create those workplaces and innovate for adaptation to climate change will call for legions of young people with the technical knowledge, imagination and mental agility necessary to craft-to-purpose the applicable science. And to follow that through into use—preferably as entrepreneurs themselves—of technological means, embodied in tools and affordable machines that use modest amounts of decentralised energy per workplace, for producing goods for mostly localised markets.
Now, if you wholly commodify higher technical education (“IITs should be self-financing by 2030”), then for sure our “Of The Middle Class, By The Middle Class” foreign-benchmarked IITs (the curriculum, and instruction, orientation is for export, although, contrary to popular belief, most IIT graduates stay in the country) will not train young people with those needed skills and knowledge. Indeed, from this perspective, the “upgradation” of the Regional Engineering Colleges to IITs was a counter-productive move. But that is another subject.
Dr V. Siddhartha served over 2007-09 as a member of the Experts Group in New York of the Committee on UN Security Council Resolution 1540. An Emeritus Scientist in DRDO, he retired in 2004. He also served for some time as Secretary of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.