The tradition of science and technology (S&T) in India is over 5,000 years old. A renaissance was witnessed in the first half of the 20th century. The S&T infrastructure has grown up from about Rs. 10 million at the time of independence in 1947 to Rs. 30 billion. Significant achievements have been made in the areas of nuclear and space science, electronics and defence. The government is committed to making S&T an integral part of the socio-economic development of the country.
India has the third largest scientific and technical manpower in the world; 162 universities award 4,000 doctorates and 35,000 postgraduate degrees and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research runs 40 research laboratories that have made some significant achievements. In the field of Missile Launch Technology, India is among the top five nations of the world.
Science and technology, however, is used as an effective instrument for growth and change. It is being brought into the mainstream of economic planning in the sectors of agriculture, industry and services. The country’s resources are used to derive the maximum output for the benefit of society and improvement in the quality of life. About 85 per cent of the funds for S&T come directly or indirectly from the Government. The S&T infrastructure in the country accounts for more than one per cent of the GNP. S&T in India is entering a new frontier.
The prime objective of India’s nuclear energy programme is the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes such as power generation, applications in agriculture, medicine, industry, research and other areas.
India is today recognised as one of the most advanced countries in nuclear technology including production of source materials. The country is self-reliant and has mastered the expertise covering the complete nuclear cycle from exploration and mining to power generation and waste management. Accelerators and research and power reactors are now designed and built indigenously. The sophisticated variable energy cyclotron at Kolkata and a medium-energy heavy ion accelerator ‘pelletron’ set up recently at Mumbai are national research facilities in the frontier areas of science.
As part of its programme of peaceful uses of atomic energy, India has also embarked on a programme of nuclear power generation. Currently eight nuclear stations are producing eight billion kilowatt of electricity. Four more nuclear power stations are planned. The new nuclear reactors are designed in India. The peaceful nuclear programme also includes producing radioisotopes for use in agriculture, medicine, industry and research.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), under the Department of Space (DOS), is responsible for research, development and operationalisation of space systems in the areas of satellite communications, remote sensing for resource survey, environmental monitoring, meteorological services, etc. DOS is also the nodal agency for the Physical Research Laboratory, which conducts research in the areas of space science, and the National Remote Sensing Agency, which deploys modern remote-sensing techniques for natural resource surveys and provides operational services to user agencies. India is the only Third World Country to develop its own remote-sensing satellite.
The Department of Electronics plays the promotional role for the development and use of electronics for socio-economic development. Many initiatives have been taken for a balanced growth of the electronics industry. The basic thrust has been towards a general rationalisation of the licensing policy with an emphasis on promotion rather than regulation, besides achieving economy of scale with up-to-date technology. A multi-pronged approach has been evolved for result-oriented R&D with special emphasis on microelectronics, telematics, and high-performance computing and software development.
Application of electronics in areas such as agriculture, health and service sectors has also been receiving special attention. For upgrading the quality of indigenously manufactured products, a series of test and development centres and regional laboratories have been set up. These centres for electronic design and technology help small and medium electronics units. A number of R&D projects have been initiated to meet the growing requirements of the industry.
India has a coastline of more than 7,600 km and 1,250 islands, with its Exclusive Economic Zone covering over 2 million sq. km and continental shelf extending up to 350 nautical miles. The Department of Ocean Development was established in 1981 to ensure optimum utilisation of living resources, exploitation of non-living resources such as hydrocarbons and minerals, and to harness ocean energy. Two research vessels, ORV Sagar Kanya and FROV Sagar Sampada, are assessing and evaluating the resource potential.
Survey and exploration efforts have been directed to assess sea bed topography, and concentration and quality of mineral nodules. In August 1987, India was allotted a mine site of 150,000 sq. km in the central Indian Ocean for further exploration and development of resources. India is the only developing country to have qualified for Pioneer Status by the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1982, and it is the first country in the world to have secured registration of a mine site.
India has sent 13 scientific research expeditions to Antarctica since 1981, and has established a permanently manned base, Dakshin Gangotri. A second permanent station, an entirely indigenous effort, was completed by the eighth expedition. The objective is to study the ozone layer and other important constituents, optical aurora, geomagnetic pulsation and related phenomena. By virtue of its scientific research activities, India acquired Consultative Membership of the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 and acceded to the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in July 1985. India is also a member of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, and has played a significant role in adopting a Minerals Regime for Antarctica in June 1988.
A National Institute of Ocean Technology was set up for the development of ocean-related technologies. It is also responsible for harnessing resources of the coastal belts and islands.
India has been the forerunner among the developing countries in promoting multi-disciplinary activities in this area, recognising the practically unlimited possibility of their applications in increasing agricultural and industrial production, and in improving human and animal life. The nucleus of research in this area is the National Biotechnology Board, constituted in 1982.
A Department of Biotechnology was created in 1986. Recently, the Biotechnology Consortium India Ltd. was set up. It will play the role of a catalyst in bridging the gap between research and development, industrial and financial institutions. Some of the new initiatives taken include developing techniques for gene mapping, conservation of biodiversity and bioindicators research, special biotechnology programmes for the benefit of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and activities in the area of plantation crops.
The areas which have been receiving attention are cattle herd improvement through embryo transfer technology, in vitro propagation of disease resistant plant varieties for obtaining higher yields, and development of vaccines for various diseases.
Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
CSIR was established in 1942, and is today the premier institution for scientific and industrial research. It has a network of 40 laboratories, two cooperative industrial research institutions and more than 100 extension and field centres. The council’s research programmes are directed towards effective utilisation of the country’s natural resources and development of new processes and products for economic progress. It is now playing a leading role in the fulfilment of the technology missions evolved by the Government.