The Government of India’s recent draft Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020 is a much-needed step to pursue the path other economies have already embarked upon. The draft policy has been prepared jointly by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the office of Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Government of India. The draft STI policy focuses on creating ecosystems for innovation and fostering technological growth that are critical drivers to sustainability, economic opportunities, and a better quality of life. This policy appears to be rightly timed for review as our institutions continue the fight against the pandemic’s second wave.
The larger question here is, “can the current STI policy help us perform better globally and can we create and nurture a robust and competitive STI ecosystem?” In this article, we look at the four broad dimensions of this policy and assess whether it carries the potential or not.
Equitable access for all
It is conspicuous from the tragedies of the recent wave of COVID and other natural calamities like the Uttarakhand glacier burst and frequent Assam floods that we lack a structure for sharing information and solutions across our institutions. It is in innovative technology solutions and potent research that the answers to our problems lie. This policy rightly envisions strengthening these collaborations among our institutions to improve research transparency and accountability by building an open-science framework. The access to data on public-funded projects might encourage researchers at the academic institutions to contribute ideas, and it is a fair assumption that it will lead to better research outputs. Also, the proposal for a centrally negotiated ‘one nation, one subscription’ plan for access to academic journals, if successfully implemented, may become a solution to the information asymmetry amongst researchers. It is not a novel idea; in fact, many organizations and institutions in the west have similar subscription solutions. It is implemented at the National level in Uruguay and Egypt with the World Bank’s financial assistance. Also, some European countries like Belgium have adopted tailor-made versions of this approach. Experts have suggested that this subscription model may hold the key to provide equitable access to the latest scientific research in developing countries. This policy measure, however, must overcome the imminent challenges of financial viability and scale of implementation to achieve the desired outcome.
Plans to Harness Untapped Innovation Potential
India has a large reservoir of innovation potential yet to be fully realized. The entrepreneurial energy and innovative ideas of its youth can be tapped to create a robust innovation ecosystem at par with that in the west. India is now among the top 50 innovative countries in the Global Innovation Index 2020 released by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The draft STI policy further aims to create ‘an institutional architecture to integrate Traditional Knowledge Systems (TKS) and grassroots innovation into the overall education, research and innovation system’. The promotion of local tech innovation and solutions is encouraged in the policy, and it will be interesting to witness how this promotion will create an impact at the national, regional and global scale. Also, several provisions have been made to explore creative ways to take Science to the last mile, e.g., employing entertainment platforms, organising science fairs, and establishing science media centres at district and state levels. This is a refreshing perspective, and we will learn more about the outcomes of this attempt if the policy retains this idea in its final draft. Recently programs like ‘Innovate in India’ for biotech and ‘Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX)’ for defence have their success, and if similar programs are launched in other potential sectors, it will greatly encourage innovation in India.
Advocacy for Better Social Inclusion
The STI ecosystem is not alien to the deep-rooted socio-economic inequalities in India. It is therefore imperative to vociferously uphold policy elements that provide equitable opportunities for all in science. In line with current initiatives of the government like ‘Kiran’ and ‘Curie’ to encourage women participation in science, this policy proposes to develop an ‘Equity and Inclusion (E&I) Charter’ based on proven global frameworks like the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women’s Academic Network). It also aims to create a conducive environment for differently-abled people and people from LGBTQ+ communities to participate in science as part of the E&I Charter. While both the central and the state governments have been running several programs to promote inclusion in the scientific domain, proper policy interventions have the potential to bring transformative changes in the coming decades. One may hope that the policy measures proposed will lead to better infrastructure, access to scientific education and equality in employment for the differently-abled, women and people from the LGBTQ+ community in science and technology.
Financing the innovation
The policy rightly acknowledges that a “robust and cohesive financial landscape” is essential for achieving self-sufficiency goals in the S&T space. At the core, the policy proposes three main strategies for finding the money, creating an STI unit with an earmarked budget and clear goals, incentivization mechanisms like tax benefits & MSME innovation grants, and re-structuring of the loan-equity-grant assistance, among many others.
There is also a bold and novel idea of formulating an STI development bank for direct long-term investments in emerging technologies like nanotech and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to complement the ongoing innovations in critical sectors like healthcare, space and defence. To better coordinate, govern, and execute these long-term investment projects, the Department of S&T plans to launch the Advanced missions in innovative research ecosystem (ADMIRE) programme through the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) mode, a more coherently defined and outlined approach compared to the 2013 STI policy.
The path forward
The policy in the current draft has noteworthy dimensions like better social inclusion, financing mechanisms, provision for equitable access, and a good vision for the STI landscape in general. However, the policy demands coherence with other policies and legislations to form a natural equilibrium for the innovation and technology to lance its way through the social, economic, and environmental constraints. There remains a set of questions to be answered subsequently, for instance, are there robust IP protection policies for innovators to support the post innovation process? Does the education policy equip the younger India with the critical thinking needed to become innovators? Or are the anti-competitive product market regulations strong and well implemented to incentivize and promote innovation?
It remains to be seen how the state and central governments will work out the semantics of implementing the draft policy in its current structure, particularly in financing and social inclusion aspects. Will the draft policy go beyond intentions & ideas and witness execution to bring social change is a question for the future.
About the authors:
Anurag is a post-graduate from IIT Kanpur and currently works at Applied Materials, India and has written this article along with another Citizens for Public Leadership 2021 fellow (name withheld due to conduct and regulations of international civil service). Please reach the authors for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any views or opinions represented in this article are in a personal capacity and do not reflect in any way the views of institutions, employers or people associated with the authors.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.