A new science, tech innovation policy – analysis

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered the worst global catastrophe since World War II. The world economy has hit one of the worst recessions ever.

However, extraordinary situations need extraordinary responses. Despite the economic distress caused by the pandemic, India has launched several comprehensive and forward-looking policies, which will bring about a paradigm shift in national development. From the National Education Policy (NEP) to the Atmanirbhar Bharat Mission and other associated reforms, a serious attempt is being made to steer the country towards self-sufficiency, and adopting innovative solutions to foster sustainable growth, secure jobs, and increase competitive abilities.

A wave of transformation is discernible in all sectors of the economy. It is in the same manner that we are fine-tuning the role of science, technology and innovation (STI) to tackle emerging social, economic and environmental challenges.

Keeping the new world order in mind, the task of re-energising the economy is now being undertaken through the finalisation of a new national Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020. The foundational values of the proposed STIP-2020 are being inclusive, expert-driven, bottom-up, decentralised, inclusive, evidence-based, and knowledge-supported.

STIP-2020 is being launched by the government at a crucial juncture. A policy that aims to transform must be adaptive to dynamic change. STIP-2020 is India’s fifth policy on science and technology and is being finalised amid unprecedented circumstances, in the backdrop of the global pandemic and resultant economic distress. The current situation demands a considerable departure from previous policies in terms of processes and outcomes.

There is no doubt that we need to encourage more social “experimentation” and implement a policy that will ensure disruptive social entrepreneurship in all sectors. Therefore, the new policy seeks to provide space for initiatives to protect the diversity of innovation, harness entrepreneurial potential and steer qualitative change in people’s lives. This is the only way to tackle the kind of sustainability crises that we are facing at the moment and also prevent them in the future.

We have tried to change the entire STI ecosystem in the last six years. It has undergone a rapid transformation in terms of relevance, scope, and scale. These changes must reflect in our policy positions to ensure a long-term development trajectory and vision for the country. Moreover, Covid-19 has introduced some new learnings and added different dimensions to the STI ecosystem.

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has given a clarion call to achieve Atmanirbhar Bharat. This will need a greater focus on the development of indigenous technologies and encouragement to grassroots-level innovation. This is the opportune time to build strong connectivity among government, academia and industry.

The country must take advantage of the emergence of disruptive and impactful technologies. The government’s focus on equity and inclusion issues is becoming much more relevant than ever before.

India’s STI growth trajectory over recent years has been impressive. Our entry into the club of the top 50 countries in the World Economic Forum’s global innovation Index with a rank of 48 (a massive improvement from 81st place in 2015) speaks volumes for our potential.

Keeping this as a top priority, the new STI policy aims to address issues at the grassroots and build a long-term pathway, which will fulfil the dreams and aspirations of millions of young Indian scientists and students. This can be achieved only through an inclusive and participatory policy formulation process. Hence, the STIP-2020 process has been divided into four interlinked consultation tracks.

Track-I involves extended public and expert consultations carried out by the Science Policy Forum that aim to reach out to Indians citizens across the world, for their comments and feedback. Track-II relates to expert consultations through 21 thematic group discussions. Track-III includes consultations with ministries (including line ministries) and states/Union Territories in keeping with a decentralised approach and Track-IV comprises apex-level consultations and advice.

A total of 150 categories of stakeholder consultations have taken place so far, in which more than 25,000 people participated and held extensive discussions.

STIP-2020 will also address some key issues such as increasing the expenditure on research and development (R&D) to 2% of the gross domestic product, private sector contribution to R&D, technology indigenisation and self-reliance, equity, and inclusion, mainstreaming traditional knowledge systems, strengthening industry-academia-government interconnectedness, ease of doing research, science-diplomacy strategy and building strong Centre-state partnerships.

I am confident that STIP-2020 will lend an impetus to strategies which contribute not only to economic growth and productive diversification, but also to sustainable and inclusive development. I expect STIP-2020 to be a true enabler of transformation for the nation.

Harsh Vardhan is Union minister for science & technology, earth sciences, health, & family welfare. This article is a part of a series on STIP-2020

The views expressed are personal

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