Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Science 'can lift India's poor'
Mr Kalam hopes his plans can be seen as a blueprint for prosperity
India's hopes of becoming an economically developed nation by 2020 depend on its continuing to drive forward through science and technology, the country's president Dr Abdul Kalam has said.
Mr Kalam, himself a former scientist, said that nearly a quarter of the country's population could be moved out of poverty if the government continued to back technology as the source of growth.
"That means about 230m out of a billion people will have been lifted up," he told BBC World Service's Discovery programme.
"The growth of the economy is very important - and if the growth of the economy is important, so is science and technology, because it drives this growth."
Dr Kalam, who in 2002 became India's 11th president, was formerly an aeronautical engineer and father to the country's missile programme.
"Science brings two changes in life," he said.
Mr Kalam believes space is one area India has proved its success
"One is a way of thinking - it elevates people.
"The second is that, as science transforms technology, it brings faster development to the nation. That's how, from 1947 onwards, science and technology became the top priority for all the governments."
Following the country's independence from Britain, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, described science as "one of the keys to economic development."
Dr Kalam explained that science had come to India's aid before - in 1953, when it was struggling with famine and required shipments of wheat to come in.
At that time, scientists and political leaders came together and decided to develop new methods of driving agriculture, he said. The result was 200m tonnes of domestically-produced food.
To aid the development of science in modern world, bureaucracy and government regulation has been relaxed, and Indian science and technology has moved in a new way. There is now, President Kalam argues, an ambition for Indian scientists to achieve as much at home as they do abroad.
Dr Rahunath Mashelkar, president of the Indian National Science Academy, said that the so-called "brain drain" had "always haunted us" - but that now, changes are taking place.
"During the last three years, more than 30,000 top-class professionals - scientists and engineers - have come back to the country," he added.
More than 200 multi-nationals have now set up research and development centres in India, including IBM, Microsoft, Shell, and General Electric.
"India is gradually becoming the land of opportunity," Dr Mashelkar said.
"The latest Intel chip is not being designed in the US - it's being designed in Bangalore."
But what is also of interest is the precise type of science being looked at.
For reasons that remain debateable, Indians have tended to excel in mathematics and physics, while life sciences have lagged behind.
But as biosciences become ever more important globally, the country is making efforts to restore the balance.
IBM expects to triple investment in India over the next three years
India is also looking over its north-eastern border, and the challenge coming from China.
China is India's rival for political influence, for manufacturing contracts, and also a rival in the worlds of science and technology.
"Countries like China are romping, whereas we are walking," Dr Mashelkar said.
"The kind of commitment and investment China has made is spectacular. They are giving their top 10 universities $125m. At the end of the day, they are saying they want 100 universities to be among the top 500 in the world.
"That kind of investment is something that, unfortunately, has not happened in India."
He added, however, that he believes India will ultimately triumph - owing to what he called the "three Ds."
"Firstly, democracy - which allows you to think freely.
"Secondly, demography - 55% of our people were born within the last 30 years. So we will have an enormous working population at a time when the rest of the working world is going to age.
"And the third is diversity. You need to be diverse to be innovative and creative, and we have phenomenal diversity."
But for President Kalam, there need not be such direct competition.
He told Discovery that his message is that an evolved, enlightened society - based on Indian ideas - can lead to "a peaceful, prosperous and happy planet."
"It's a three-dimensional approach, involving education with a value system, religion transforming into spirituality, and the most important, economic development for societal transformation in all the nations," he explained.
"The global implementation of this three-dimensional approach, in an integrated way, will lead to a peaceful planet yet."