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Science, Technology And Public Policy – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Science, Technology and Public Policy in India

Session Report
Srinitya Kuchimanchi

With topics ranging from enhancing competence in public financial management, and designing public policies to achieve citizen centric outcomes to managing India’s urbanization while balancing environmental goals, A One- Month Immersive Online Intermediate Certificate Training Course titled ‘Contours of Public Policy in India in the Amrit Kaal’, was conducted by IMPRI (Impact and Policy Research Institute from September 1 to September 30, 2023. 

Catering to a diverse audience, the course aims to provide participants with a unique understanding of the challenges faced in contemporary governance from numerous perspectives involving economics, foreign policy, the role of media and civil society, and feminism in policy making, equipping them with the tools required to tackle policy issues. 

On the 8th day, facilitated by Professor Mukul Asher, the session on Science, Technology and Public Policy was taken up by Dr. Bhaskar Balakrishna, Former Ambassador of India to Greece and Cuba; Former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board; Science Diplomacy Fellow, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), New Delhi, who initiated the session by highlighting the fundamental role of science and technology (S&T) in modern society.

He emphasized that science provides us with a basic understanding of the natural world, while technology involves the practical application of this knowledge. Innovation, the adaptation of knowledge for practical purposes, forms the bridge between the two. In governance, the objectives are twofold: national security and ensuring the best possible quality of life for citizens. S&T plays a pivotal role as it can confer both economic and military power.

Government’s Role in Monitoring and Controlling Technology

Professor Balakrishna detailed the government’s role in monitoring and controlling technological advancements. Governments at all levels play crucial roles in this process. He emphasized several key factors as listed below:

  • Evolution of S&T Institutions: S&T institutions have evolved from small-scale operations to large establishments with significant budgets.
  • Disruptive Effects: Technological advancements can disrupt the balance of power, increase inequalities, and displace jobs. Examples include nuclear advancements and the use of denial regimes to restrict access to technology.
  • Pursuit of Economic and Military Power: Nations seek economic and military power through S&T advancements, making it essential for governments to facilitate and regulate these developments.
  • Integration into Public Policy: S&T must be integrated into public policy. Scientific insights should inform the creation of public policies.

Challenges Involved in Public Policy

Dr. Balakrishna highlighted the growing challenges faced by society, including climate change, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), and issues related to cyber-space. He stressed the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, with experts in science engaging in dialogues with policymakers to formulate informed responses. Developing countries face particular disadvantages, as their responses tend to be reactionary due to limited resources. Special emphasis should be placed on areas like climate change, environment, and health. Policymakers should possess a basic scientific knowledge, and scientists should communicate the implications of advancements clearly and in jargon-free terms.

International Engagement and Collaboration

It is imperative for nations to actively participate in international discussions and respond to technological advancements promptly. Opportunities for engagement in large international programs should not be missed, as they can yield significant benefits. The growing S&T sector requires support and the exchange of ideas and commercialization to secure both economic and strategic advantages. Thought should be given to intellectual property rights (IPR) benefits when formulating research projects.

The Development Dimension

S&T can be harnessed to address economic, social, and national security development issues. It also has the potential to reduce the cost of development. Initiatives like the Technology Facilitation Mechanism under the United Nations (UN) aim to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), although these mechanisms are yet to fully take off. In India, NITI Aayog serves as the coordinating agency for SDGs. Sharing experiences among developing countries is vital. Indian initiatives such as the Global South Science and Technology Initiative (GSSTI) and the Global South Centre of Excellence in Development (DAKSHIN) are working towards this goal.

The Science and Technology Ecosystem and Its Role

The S&T ecosystem encompasses government S&T departments, state and local government agencies, research institutions, academic institutions, teaching and research workforces, both public and private. It includes STEM education, human resources, research infrastructure, funding mechanisms, regulatory agencies, the IPR system, incubators, the business environment, and civil society.

India’s S&T Ecosystem and Performance

R&D Spending: India’s total spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP remains at around 0.7%, significantly below major nations like the USA (2.8%).

Researcher Density: India had 262 researchers per million population in 2020, much lower than China (1225), the USA (4245), South Korea (8714), and Israel (8342).

Research Output: Research output in terms of publications has increased by 2.5 times from 2010 to 2020, ranking India third in scientific publication output.

Patent Filing: India is ranked 7th in terms of Resident Patent Filing according to a WIPRO report.

Nuclear Energy

India has moved out of nuclear isolation, with agreements for nuclear fuel and civil reactors. Challenges include joining international treaties like the CTBT and FMCT, adhering to a No First Use (NFU) policy, and ensuring nuclear safety and security.

Climate Change and Energy

India plays a significant role in global climate efforts due to its size and economic growth. Key areas include electric mobility, energy storage, renewable energy targets, and participation in global alliances.

ICT and Digital Infrastructure

India’s increasing use of the internet and mobile devices necessitates the adaptation of public policies. Digital manufacturing and AI offer promise but also pose challenges related to job displacement and regulation.

Life Sciences and Environment Protection

Regulating research and development in life sciences, addressing ethical issues in areas like gene therapy and biodiversity protection, is crucial. India is actively engaged in discussions related to environmental protection, including negotiations on a new plastics treaty.

Engaging with the Diaspora

Central, state, and local businesses can facilitate engagement with the Indian diaspora. Policies should be flexible, processes simplified, and bureaucratic hurdles removed. Institutions can provide opportunities for visiting scientists, short-term work assignments, sabbaticals, networking, joint research, and greater use of ICT tools.

In conclusion, Professor Bhaskar Balakrishna’s session detailed the pivotal role of science and technology in governance, economic development, and national security. It emphasized the importance of international collaboration, interdisciplinary dialogue, and the need for a robust S&T ecosystem. India’s current status and potential for growth in the S&T sector were discussed, along with challenges and opportunities in areas ranging from nuclear energy to climate change and digital infrastructure.

Acknowledgement: Srinitya Kuchimanchi is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here.

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    IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

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IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

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