Government of India has released draft of 5th National Science technology and innovation policy 2020 for public consultation. This article discusses the reasons for such a policy in place. This article also discusses various important aspects of the new draft policy and tries to answer the question of whether such a policy would strengthen the STI (Science technology and innovation) ecosystem. This article further analyses the approach of such a policy and whether such a policy has incorporated the lesson taught by deadly pandemic.
India is facing a whole lot of challenges in terms of science and technology, climate change, environment, resources, electric mobility, and clean energy and so on. At the same time, the concept of innovation and startups and their role in building our economy through science and technology is also not very compelling for the nation. There are other issues, for example, related to diversity inclusion, open access to resources etc. The present hour is to have a seamless end to end, science and technology ecosystem, which is inclusive, which is empowered, which is fully competent to meet our challenges of today and tomorrow. Even in times of COVID-19, within which the entire policy has taken shape that itself has taught us many compelling lessons, which all have integrated as a policy. This is the background in which this policy is formed, it is not about working in silos, but it’s about making connections, whether it is connection between industry, academia R&D government or start-ups or NGO or the society at large.
Analysis of the Policy
One most important aspect of this policy is one nation one subscription. One nation one subscription is in fact part of a larger vision to democratise science. In simpler words, science is not only for scientists, of course scientists are the ones who create science, but they’re also users of science of planning for development in every line of ministry in the state or in industry everywhere. So to democratise this information data knowledge related to science, there must be access to all the citizens. At present, the subscriptions are very fragmented and limited to few people and organisations around the country. This move is taken to empower our development. We must reach out, everybody from the gram Panchayat level to every citizen who would make use of this information and data. This policy relates to the ease of doing business and access to information.
Most of the science enterprise research publications technology generated in India does not end up feeding into innovation. Innovation is something where you apply the technology and produce something that is tangible for the society. At present there is no proper flow between all of these different verticals and that is the biggest challenge in science enterprise research publications technology. This policy is intending to put it all together. This policy has a cohesive kind of an approach, of how do you make research that eventually leads to innovation.
Another aspect of the policy is involvement of ministries. There are multiple issues concerning various ministries of the government of India such as many of them don’t support research and innovation or they don’t have a policy framework for supporting R&D institutions. This policy would ensure that ministries allocate funding for research and innovation to engage in academia. This would also encourage other stakeholders to engage in the STI ecosystem.
The expectation of societies and governments from science have transformed in the contemporary era. Globally societies are expecting things which are very different than they were expecting a few decades back. Whole knowledge enterprise has dramatically changed over the last five to ten years globally, and it is not just India, other countries are going through the same phases. Therefore, it is incumbent on the scientific community, people who administer science to recognise that change and this policy recognises that change. This is a big takeaway that there is a greater recognition that we have to change the way to science as we have been very privileged in this country for the last 70 years and kept all of the pressing issues at back burner. Questions were not asked in terms of the translational outcome in terms of societal outcomes.
The question still remains about the policy implementation. For this, we need different frameworks within scientific institutions. The initiatives of the STI Development Bank, national STI observatory is all about connecting our silos. There are two parts — one that creates knowledge, and one that consumes. In the past we have only been focused on things that create knowledge, and hardly paid attention to the latter. And this in fact has been shown by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are major weaknesses not in creation of knowledge, but in terms of the direction and relevance of that knowledge, and its consumption.
The repository would bring all that data and information available on one platform, so that everybody can access it at the same time, all the information which is in terms of patents and publications also must be easily accessible to everybody, but the major idea is indeed related to the fact it would bring in more stakeholders supporting and using science and technology. Major stakeholders are the state governments. So typically states have been ignoring the value of science, technology and innovation, but they are now waking up, so as to be a partner in a strong way, and to solve their local problems using STI.
Another major stakeholder are industries of the nation. The connection between infrastructure – knowledge resources – human resources has been a little bit weak. This policy makes this connection quite strong both in terms of investing in science and technology, and at the same time connecting it with everything else that we have. This would be done by both fiscal and non fiscal incentives, and also by a public private partnership roadmap, which means that the nation needs certain technologies and products, and if we can create certain projects, the industry could have foreign partnership and their understanding of the market becomes clear from the beginning. So together with the procurement policies of the government, we could have profound changes.
In our economy the changes very clearly push for our industry to invest in knowledge resources. At present all the scientific infrastructure and human resources do not have an ease of access. We don’t have co-ownership of these resources. This policy addresses this issue. This policy would create a win-win situation, both for academia, R&D Labs and industry to in fact to have an early direction for the knowledge, which would be consumed.
For example, CSIR could have made ventilators of top class 10 years ago, but we did not. We did all of it in four months, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the top of the line diagnostics, coming from CSIR. All Of this happened because there was a common purpose, there wasn’t only direction, there was co-ownership of information and resources. So if we bring in the same energy and vision then everything that the nation needs or depends on we could start developing at a faster speed and on a large scale. And within the span of 10 years India could be a global leader in the field of science technology and innovation and not just in terms of the number of research papers. In the ranking of the number of research papers we are already 4th in the world, which simply means that we can produce world class knowledge. Obviously, the weakness is how to use this knowledge and the same has been addressed by this policy.
This policy has a combination of top down and bottom up approach which is the need of the world at present .There has to be a focused objective, and all the resources should be invested in achieving that objective. This is something that is lacking right now in academia as everything is left to the researchers to decide the problems. They decide the approach, they decide what they want to do with the research. As a result, there is a lot of research happening, but all of that is not adding up to something which you can show as a tangible output.
During COVID times all institutions across country have put their focus on finding solutions to the COVID problem, and the result is that we have the World’s cheapest RT PCR kit, we supplied 5 million TPS now at the most affordable kind of a price, almost 40% of them are getting exported. And then we were able to study traditional medicines in a scientific way and published papers in the world’s top journals.
During this pandemic people came together as a multidisciplinary kind of team. We have delivered all of the above mentioned things in a matter of six months. This is something to be done in normal times also. If there is an urgency built, there is the focus that is brought to our institutions. With the kind of support that has happened, during this COVID time, even the approval processes in the government in all got streamlined in a matter of months because there was that urgency, as a result we all were in our institutions were able to deliver so much in such a short period of time. This is the most important lesson to be learnt from COVID and apply it in normal times. There is so much potential in our academia; If we can tap even a small percentage of it, India will be a developed country soon.
For policy implementation, we all have the knowledge to implement a policy and it is not something that we have to reinvent, that knowledge is there. In fact, we have to just come out of our comfort zone and go the extra mile in the field of STI. India has to move forward rapidly in order to sit on the global high table today in the field of science, technology and innovation.
This policy makes sure that research happening in one sector’s research and development department does not overlap with another sector’s research and development sector. We could create knowledge and move that into areas where there is huge possibility for India to become global leaders. For instance the biological revolution happening in present COVID times would change the face of medicine such as regenerative medicine, translational medicine.
Similarly this policy also has a component of synergy translation. The draft of this policy also hints to the fact that the taxpayer revenue should also go to private R&D as ultimately the science thrives there. We should also support scientists in private industry for innovation as done in COVID times.
These were some important aspects of this draft policy. The idea is to have a cohesive approach to ensure co-ownership of resources. This policy also ensures that translation benefits of the work done in the research and development in the field of science and technology is given to the society at large.
 Editorial, “An Expert Explains: New investments in science” The Indian Express,7 Jan 2021https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/sti-policy-science-technology-innovation-policy-atmanirbhar-bharat-5th-national-sti-policy-7135888/.
 “New science policy draft focuses on self-reliance, enhanced funding in S&T” The economic times 1 Jan 2021 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/science/new-science-policy-draft-focusses-on-self-reliance-enhanced-funding-in-st/articleshow/80060726.cms.
 Draft 5th National Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, 2021 https://dst.gov.in/draft-5th-national-science-technology-and-innovation-policy-public-consultation#:~:text=It%20aims%20to%20foster%2C%20develop,and%20policy%20research%20in%20India.&text=The%20new%20policy%2C%20STIP%2C%20revolves,experts%2Ddriven%2C%20and%20inclusive.
BY ANAMTA KHAN | NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, DELHI