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National Technology Day: A look into India’s progress and future challenges

May 11, 1998, marked the three most important technological breakthroughs by Indian scientists, setting the stage for a thriving science and technology sector that boosted the nation’s GDP.

Prabhav Anand11 May 2024 07:54

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam visited Pokhran Range after the successful mission of Nuclear Test. (Image Credit: @IndusLens/Twitter/X)

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam visited Pokhran Range after the successful mission of Nuclear Test. (Image Credit: @IndusLens/Twitter/X)

Each year on May 11, we reflect on the strides made by India’s science and technology sector since independence. This year is especially noteworthy as it marks the 26th anniversary of the National Technology Day celebrations.

The memorable day of May 11, 1998, witnessed three remarkable technological feats by India’s scientific community — the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, also known as Operation Shakti; the successful launch of the Trishul missile; and the maiden flight of the homegrown aircraft, Hansa.

The triumphant display of these technologies led the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to add ‘Jai Vigyan’ (Salute to Science) to Lal Bahadur Shastri’s famous slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ (Salute to the Soldier and the Farmer).

The Culture of Science

The accomplishments of May 11, 1998, were built on the progress made by India’s Science and Technology (S&T) sector over the previous 51 years, significantly contributing to the economy.

India had already positioned itself as a global pharmaceutical hub, and its IT industry was preparing to drive not only the world’s IT-enabled services but also the digital growth of the country. It seemed that India was on the verge of joining the world’s top economies.

Vajpayee’s advocacy for economic growth driven by S&T is evident in many of his speeches. He once stated at a Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award ceremony that every rupee invested in indigenous R&D repays itself several times over in direct and indirect ways.

Journey since Pokhran

Since 1998, India has steadily advanced in its technological journey. Visible examples of India’s impactful technological progress include the digital payment gateways that have revolutionized financial transactions.

Lesser-known achievements include the production of indigenous BioJet fuels, mapping of subsurface water channels for sustainable water use, development of indigenous light combat aircraft, crop development through traditional breeding methods, digitization of trade, and a firm move towards a Hydrogen economy.

Challenges Ahead

However, challenges persist in several areas, including urban infrastructure and planning, pollution control, rural-to-urban migration, agricultural diversification, judicious use of water resources, and promotion of AI/ ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) technologies across all industrial segments.

Concerns have been raised about the lack of adequate investments by private industries in R&D. The total expenditure on R&D, approximately 0.6% of its GDP, is almost entirely contributed by public funds. Inadequate involvement by state governments in S&T is also a concern.

Moreover, attempts by private industries to collaborate with academia are often scrutinized for “inappropriate” practices, which not only hinder the work undertaken but also discourage government-supported researchers from collaborating with industries. Appropriate frameworks are urgently needed to facilitate collaborations between industry and academia at a rapid pace.

Finally, if India’s ambitions of leading the world into a sustainable future are to be realized, reforms in the bureaucratic system for the management of S&T are an immediate necessity.

Institutions on National Technology Day:

Dr. Bishnu Pal, Dean, Ecole Centrale School of Engineering, Mahindra University

“Educators hold the key to unlocking the potential of youth and nurturing their innate creativity to think critically, adapt swiftly, and innovate fearlessly by providing access to research, design thinking, and problem-solving platforms. By merging the power of technology with the vibrancy of the start-up ecosystem and bridging the gap between education and entrepreneurship, we can nurture young minds to build a career and also create opportunities for others. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Cell (EIC) at Mahindra University not only promotes an entrepreneurial ecosystem but also fosters a start-up culture on campus. As transformative technologies shape future societies it is vital to help nurture fresh ideas and streamline the boundless energy that young minds possess in abundance.” 

Agendra Kumar, Managing Director, Esri India 

“India’s tech sector is expected to clock 3-5% growth in FY25. A crucial facilitator of this growth will be the higher adoption of cutting-edge technologies like GIS, GeoAI, and IoT by the government, academia, and the private sector to address mission-critical challenges and build applications that can be collaboratively used by a large number of people in the organizations. Young minds, equipped with geospatial thinking and the relevant skillset will be the key driving force behind this development. 

As a leader in the GIS industry, Esri India is committed to building a strong geospatial workforce for the country. Along with working with 800+ universities and colleges, we are engaged in initiatives like Master’s Scholarships in GIS, Master Mentors Geo-enabling Indian Scholars (MMGEIS) Program in collaboration with the Centre for Knowledge Sovereignty, and Young Scholar Program to empower young minds to tackle India's challenges using geospatial technology. Investment in building the capabilities of the youth of our country so that they can make a strong positive impact is a prerequisite for becoming a developed nation by 2047.”

Tarun Chhabra, Country Manager, Nokia India

"National Technology Day is a celebration of innovation and contribution of the youth for driving the same. India has already positioned itself as one of the key economies in the world driven by technological innovation over the last few year. We believe that the next decade will be marked by unparalleled technological progress in AI, cloud, and connectivity presenting new opportunities for India to strengthen its foothold in the global technology landscape. At Nokia, we are actively building a global ecosystem by leveraging our innovation platforms, communities, and physical labs, where we unite partners and technologies to shape the digital services and applications of tomorrow. India plays a significant role in this journey."

Ms. Joyshree Das Verma, National President of FICCI FLO

"As we celebrate National Technology Day, we honor the journey from classrooms to boardrooms, where young minds are nurtured into innovative leaders. FICCI FLO proudly stands at the forefront, championing the cause of women empowerment and entrepreneurship. With initiatives like the Mudra Yojana loans, the nation is fueling the aspirations of millions, especially women, to venture into the realm of startups and technological advancements. The surge in female enrolment in higher education mirrors our collective commitment to education equality and inclusivity. Through our strategic partnerships like the MoU with NIIT Foundation, we are bridging the digital divide, upskilling individuals, and fostering a culture of innovation from grassroots to global platforms. Together, let us continue to empower, educate, and inspire the next generation of tech pioneers, ensuring a brighter, more inclusive future for all."

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