The HINDU Notes – 26th September 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 26th September 2019





📰 Narendra Modi pitches for India’s NSG entry

“Since we are not a member, we can’t get fuel for producing nuclear energy,” the Prime Minister says.

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a pitch for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in New York on Wednesday, as he addressed a largely business gathering in the Bloomberg Global Business Forum where he delivered the keynote address. The comments were made during a Q&A session with former New York City Mayor and businessman, Michael Bloomberg.

•“One challenge that is before us today is that of nuclear energy, because, since we are not a member of the NSG, we do not really have the ability to get the fuel for producing nuclear energy,” Mr. Modi said, as part of an answer on climate change and India’s energy needs.

•“If we were to get that opportunity, we could perhaps be a model in this area for the world,” he said.

•The NSG controls most of the world’s nuclear trade. While the U.S. and other countries support India’s entry into the NSG, China has opposed it saying India has not signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

•India and the U.S. announced in March that six U.S. companies would set up nuclear power reactors in India.

•Mr. Modi also reiterated messages he had delivered at the UN Climate Action Summit on Monday on a 450 GW target for solar energy and a water project (Jal Jeevan) that includes rainwater harvesting and river management, as well as restrictions on the use of single-use plastics.

•“We are starting a very big movement to stop the use of plastic on the 2nd of October on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi,” he said.

•On the use of coal, he said a poor country like India, could not ignore the fact that it had the third largest coal reserves in the world, but would need to make mining more environmentally friendly and adopt coal gasification technology.

•Speaking in Hindi, the Prime Minister switched to English for parts of the speech, such as when making a pitch for investments in India, including in infrastructure, urbanisation, defence and technology.

•“Your desires and our dreams match perfectly,” Mr. Modi told the audience. He talked up his government’s reforms – including a mention of GST (a pan-India indirect tax on goods and services), the bankruptcy and insolvency laws, unique ID (Aadhaar) and financial inclusion, which had brought 370 million individuals bank accounts in a short period of time.

•He said the administration in India today respected the business world and wealth creators – a message he had delivered on Independence Day, and one repeated by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman – reactions to perceptions that policies (around taxation and Corporate Social Responsibility for instance) had made investing in India difficult.

•He mentioned intellectual property at least twice during the session. IP has been another concern for U.S. businesses as India has continued to be placed on a U.S. government ‘Priority Watch List’ for its IPR practices.

•Mr. Modi also said purchasing power in India was increasing, making it a prime market for those who wanted to invest where there were opportunities to scale up their businesses.

📰 Higher Education Bill in winter session

Higher Education Commission of India to take over regulatory functions of the University Grants Commission and the All India Council for Technical Education.

•A Bill that aims to create a single regulator for higher education, replacing the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), is likely to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament.

•It proposes to bring almost all areas of higher education — including technical, architectural and legal courses — under the ambit of a single umbrella body. Medical education, however, will not come under the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), according to the draft Bill.

•The new version of the legislation has also removed a controversial proposal to move grant disbursal authority from autonomous bodies and bring it directly under the control of the Human Resource Development Minister. Instead, a new autonomous body will be created to supervise the doling out of funds to higher education institutions, according to a senior Ministry official.

•UGC and AICTE are autonomous bodies which oversee the accreditation, regulation and maintenance of teaching, examination and research standards for universities and technical education institutions across the country. These academic functions will now be moved to the new HECI, as proposed in the draft Bill.

•However, AICTE and UGC are also responsible for disbursing public funds to Universities and colleges. The earlier version of the HECI Bill, introduced in June 2018, had envisaged these responsibilities being handed over to an advisory board under the HRD Minister.

•“We received more than 50,000 pieces of feedback when the draft HECI Bill was made public last year. We have taken into account the sense of the people, and have removed the proposal for an advisory board to the Minister disbursing grants,” a senior official told The Hindu on Wednesday. The Ministry’s five-year strategy plan, released in June, had recommended that fund disbursal be done by a special purpose vehicle. “It could be done by an SPV. It could be done by an independent body under the HECI itself. It will certainly be done by an autonomous body,” added the official.

•Other changes include an increase in the number of State representatives in the HECI, to counter fears of states losing their autonomy. The new version of the Bill also removes the requirement that existing institutions must take permission from HECI for their current courses.

•The new version of the HECI Bill will not be placed in the public domain before it is introduced in Parliament, despite several major changes from the original draft. “It is currently being circulated among the other Ministries for comment, and is likely to go to Cabinet in the second week of October,” said the official.

📰 Supreme Court rejects Kageri’s plea on framing guidelines for Speakers

How can we do that? Speaker is a constitutional authority ... We cannot encroach: Court

•The right of an MLA to resign voluntarily for reasons of conscience is a recognised right. A legislator who chooses to first resign his seat in the Assembly and then joins another party after leaving the House cannot be disqualified under the anti-defection law, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Karnataka Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

•“It is not defection if you give up membership of a political party for reasons of conscience, then you resign and go back to face the public mandate. This is recognition of the MLA’s right to resign,” Mr. Mehta submitted before a three-judge Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana.

•In an oblique reference to the disqualification of 17 Congress and Janata Dal (S) MLAs by his predecessor, K.R. Ramesh Kumar, the Solicitor-General, speaking for Mr. Kageri, said: “It is high time Your Lordships lay down guidelines for Speakers”.

•“How can we lay down guidelines for the Speaker? He is a constitutional authority ... We cannot encroach,” Mr. Justice Ramana shot back at the top law officer.

•Mr. Mehta persisted in his line of argument that “changing political parties as an MLA was defection, but resigning from the House and subsequently shifting to another party to face elections does not amount to defection under Schedule 10 of the Constitution”. But Justice Sanjeev Khanna, on the Bench, orally observed that the reality behind a resignation may be completely different from the reasons given in the resignation letter or conveyed to the public.

•“What is written on paper may be different from what is the reality. An MLA may be intentionally resigning from the Assembly to join another party. Or, there are cases where disqualification motion may already be pending against the MLA who opts to resign ... What do you make of that?” Mr. Justice Khanna asked Mr. Mehta.

•The Solicitor-General replied that for an MLA, his constituency is sovereign. A party whip cannot stop him from doing good for his electorate. In such cases, the legislator may opt to resign than continue his participation in an ineffectual government.

Speaker’s authority

•Senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, for disqualified Congress MLA D. Sudhakar, submitted that the authority of the Speaker when faced with the resignation of an MLA is limited. The Speaker is to only see if the resignation is voluntary or genuine.

•“The Speaker is to check whether someone is holding a gun to the head of the resigning MLA or whether the resignation letter is a forgery,” Mr. Sundaram submitted.

•“A Speaker is not the party boss. He is the master of the House and not the president of the party,” Mr. Sundaram submitted.

•Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for some other disqualified legislators, highlighted the procedural flaws in the events leading to the disqualification, including the lack of notice period.

•The Election Commission (EC) has already orally conveyed to the Supreme Court that an Assembly Speaker cannot deprive disqualified Karnataka legislators from contesting the bypolls due on October 21. The last date for nominations is September 30.

•Mr. Rohatgi said the court should stay the notification issued on Saturday last as regards byelections to 15 Karnataka Assembly constituencies or, in the alternative, give them permission to contest the polls in October.

•Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for the EC, said there is “much to say” in the manner in which the MLAs were disqualified from the House by the former Karnataka Assembly Speaker on the charge of violating the anti-defection law.

📰 The real deal: On India-U.S. trade deal

Even a limited trade agreement between India and the U.S. is some distance away

•After the backslapping bonhomie and high of Houston, it was time for a reality check in New York. Contrary to expectations that were consciously generated and managed by both sides, India and the United States failed to arrive at a limited trade deal that was to have been announced during this visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the U.S. The deal stumbled over duties imposed by India on ICT (information and communication technology) products — the U.S. wanted the 20% duty on mobile phones and ethernet switches to be reduced or eliminated. America is also understood to have demanded greater access to the Indian market for medical devices such as stents and knee implants apart from its dairy and agricultural products. These are sensitive products politically for the Indian side as Mr. Modi has often taken credit for making them affordable. Loosening price controls now is not an option for India as that would push up prices of these products in the country. For its part, India wanted the Generalised System of Preferences which gives preferential market access for its products in the U.S., restored. These are so far as a “limited trade deal” goes; a full scale trade agreement would pose bigger challenges on issues such as intellectual property, e-commerce and the ticklish subject of H1B visas.

•Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale has said that the two sides “narrowed” down their differences and made “significant progress” but it is clear that there is still a wide gulf even assuming that India is willing to go more than half the way to strike a deal. That a deal could not be struck despite Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal winging his way to New York to lead negotiations tells the story. For U.S. President Trump, even a limited deal with India will be something to talk about as he approaches election year. This is especially because trade talks with China are going nowhere. China has not only taken Mr. Trump’s punitive tariffs on its chin but has retaliated in kind, picking the products that could hurt his constituency and supporters. This explains the hectic, behind-the-scenes activity with India in the last few weeks. With its economy in the grip of a major slowdown, any concessions from India on imports of American products may not have gone down well both politically and in economic terms. Going by the limited information in the public domain, it appears that India has played tough and refused to yield to U.S. demands. Trade negotiations are never easy and for them to succeed, both sides have to believe in a policy of give and take. It does not help if one side tries to bulldoze the other into submitting totally to its interests. At this point in time it does seem that even a limited trade deal between India and the U.S. is some distance away.

📰 The meaning of oneness in ‘one nation’

It is the oneness independent of the language we speak or the religion we practise

•Philosophy as a discipline or practice is not popular these days. However, today we are faced with many challenges in the political arena that need philosophical reflection. Unintentionally, the government’s actions and utterances create the possibility of a new climate for public philosophy, which in turn is important for a functioning democratic society.





•The claim by the Home Minister about ‘one language, one nation’ is an instance of this. While much has been said about the idea of a nation, here I want to point out how even the word ‘one’ in this phrase has many complex meanings embedded in it.

The notion of one

•At the surface it seems as if this idea is about imposing a particular language. But the idea of ‘one’ that is invoked here is not only philosophically rich but also culturally common. It is impossible not to come across the notion of ‘one’, whether in philosophy, art, science or everyday cultural practices. And now, increasingly in politics. The search for one underlying truth, one underlying principle, one unified theory or one language has been privileged through the ages in all cultures.

•But what is this idea of ‘one’? Although even children know about this number, there is nothing simple about it. There are many complex ideas hidden within this number. The most foundational principle of mathematics lies in the simple fact that 1 should always be equal to 1. Whatever you do to numbers or even equations, at the end the rule that cannot be violated is that 1 = 1.

•The mathematical one has two other important properties. All integers can be produced by adding one. So if we begin with 1, we can then create 1+1 = 2, then create 2+1 = 3, and so on until infinity. Infinity itself is imaginable by us only because it is impossible to imagine the largest finite number. This is so because given any number which is the largest, we can always add 1 to it.

•There is another way by which infinity is created from 1 and this is by dividing 1. Starting with 1, we can create fractions out of it such as one-half, one-third, and so on. There are infinite divisions that we can make. We can thus say that one contains the infinity already within it and that it is defined as much by its divisibility as by its countability.

The one and the many

•In philosophy, these questions are part of a fundamental problem called the problem of the ‘one and the many’. It is the puzzle of how is it that many different things can be ‘seen’ as one and at the same time how the ‘one’ can be seen as being made up of ‘many’. For example, what is in our cognition and language — in the way we experience and understand the world — that makes us perceive the many things in a room as being part of ‘one’ room?

•This is not merely a question about how we perceive the world. The moment we use terms like unity, unified, together, collection, group, set, identity etc., we are actually talking about the idea of ‘one’. We do this in our conceptual thinking too. Concepts, one could argue, are really nothing more than creating oneness out of many. For example, the moment we use the concept ‘chair’, we are putting all the different, individual chairs into ‘one’ family called ‘chair’.

•Many great thinkers have repeatedly invoked the idea of one. Narayana Guru imagined a casteless society or, equivalently, a society of only one ‘caste’, what he called the manusha jati. There have been countless thinkers who have called for ‘one humanity’ as the ideal that we should follow. In the Advaitic philosophy of Shankara, the true reality is a oneness, and difference is only an illusion. Religious traditions focus on liberation, which is nothing but achieving oneness with god, as the central goal of human life.

Quality and quantity

•So when the government invokes the idea of ‘one nation, one language’, what could be the meaning of ‘one’? It is surely not the meaning associated with the mathematical number. First of all, if it is the number one, then ‘one nation’ does not make sense since the nation (as it is singular) is always only one. If we say ‘one apple’, the meaning of one here is that it counts the number of apples leading to terms such as ‘one apple’, ‘two apples’, and so on. When the government says ‘one nation’, it is not using one in this countable sense. That is, the meaning of the word one in ‘one nation’ is not a measure of quantity.

•So what else could it be then? The only possible meaning is if ‘one’ is understood not as a quantity but only as a quality. It is the quality of oneness that is the meaning of one in ‘one nation’. And herein lies the problem: quantity does not matter to the qualitative meaning of one. So even if 100% of the people in the country speak Hindi, it would still not be enough to create the quality of being one nation. (In fact, having a common language to define oneness is not a good idea since it is the common language which makes conflict easier!) At the same time, even if none of the people in a nation share the same language, it is still possible to have the quality of oneness.

•Quality cannot be reduced to or totally converted to quantity. Social science methodology is based on this distinction between quantity and quality. So the problem in the government’s view is really this: when they use the term ‘one nation’ they are thinking of one in terms of quantity (such as majority). But the meaning of one in ‘one nation’ cannot be based on quantity and has to be only a quality. When any of us relates the oneness of nation to sheer numbers of majority, such as majority in language or in religion, then we are not really talking about the quality of oneness. Majority does not create oneness, it only creates bigger numbers. The importance of the quality of oneness lies in its strength to remain a simple ‘one’ and not get inflated by bigger and emptier numbers.

•The oneness in ‘one nation’ is the kind of oneness talked about by Narayana Guru, Shankara, the saints in the Bhakti movement and the Sufi poets. It is the oneness between the humans and the world, and oneness between each one of us independent of the language we speak or the religion we practise. Those who talk about ‘one nation’ must realise that the true meaning of oneness lies in its quality of unity and togetherness. It does not arise through measurable and majoritarian views but only as a quality that comes through recognising the common humanity in all of us, independent of our gender, caste, class and religion.

📰 Live and let live-in

The order of the Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission on live-in relationships is problematic

•While referring to women in live-in relationships, a Bench of the State Human Rights Commission of Rajasthan said on September 5 that the “concubine” life of a woman cannot be termed a dignified life. In the absence of any specific reference in the order to the complaints that triggered these provocative comments, it is difficult to say what the honourable justices sought to achieve by making them. The kindest interpretation would be that they were overcome by benevolent patriarchy, the kind which prompts universities to have more conservative curfews for female students. However, this seemingly innocuous need to ‘protect’ women is a symptom of a more pernicious disease: the need to ensure that women don’t challenge the patriarchal structures and institutions meant to keep them in their place.

The rights of parties who cohabit

•In demanding a law that would provide avenues to formally recognise live-in relationships, the Bench touched upon an important legal issue. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, extends remedies in the legislation to ‘relationships in the nature of marriage’, and courts have repeatedly held that long, continuous cohabitation raises a presumption in favour of marriage. Notwithstanding this, there is a legal vacuum as regards the rights of parties who cohabit. The Supreme Court has passed several landmark judgments on intimate relationships. In Shafin Jahan v. Asokan (2018), it held that the right to choose one’s life partner is an important facet of the right to life, and social approval of intimate personal decisions should not be the basis for recognising them. In Navtej Johar v. Union of India (2018), it read down Section 377 of the IPC which criminalised consensual homosexual relationships. In light of this, it is important to note that being in a live-in relationship is a valid choice which deserves the recognition and protection of law. That said, there may also be those who cohabit informally because they cannot formalise their relationships, such as inter-caste/religion opposite-sex couples who are barred from marrying by social norms, or same-sex couples, who are barred from marrying by law. Informal cohabitation, like marriage, creates vulnerabilities due to divisions of labour that leave one party, usually the woman and her child, in greater need of financial support when the relationship ends. The law provides ways to address these vulnerabilities in marriages through the provision of rights to maintenance or inheritance, but the needs of informal cohabitants are left up to the discretion of judges, without any legal framework to guide them. However, it is not for these reasons that the SHRC has demanded the law. The real apprehension of the Bench is the alleged proliferation of live-in relationships, a social institution through which sexual freedom can be exercised outside marriage.

Problematic proclamations

•The SHRC’s order is problematic on many levels. One, Article 19 of the Constitution, which protects the right to freedom of speech and expression, includes the freedom to express one’s identity, sexual preferences, and love. The right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 includes the right to privacy. The right to choose how to organise one’s personal intimacies is an important facet of the right to privacy and, therefore, outside the purview of the state. Demanding that the government seek to prohibit live-in relationships is therefore brazen contempt of the decisions of the apex court.

•Two, the language of the SHRC promotes sexist and heteronormative stereotypes, and ignores social reality. At one level, in stating that women in live-in relationships are ‘kept’ as concubines, it ignores the possibility that such relationships could be a viable alternative in cases where marriage is legally or socially prohibited. It also assumes that marriage is, or ought to be, the only relationship through which women sexually associate with men. At another level, by equating women who cohabit with concubines, it entrenches the patriarchal Madonna-whore dichotomy: women can either be good women who abide by the societal boundaries set for them or bad women who dare transgress these boundaries. The fact that this language was used by a body tasked with protecting and upholding human rights makes the proclamations doubly egregious.

•Finally, the language in the order will likely create a chilling effect, preventing vulnerable citizens, in need of legal protection, from seeking redress.

•The SHRC also demanded that governments run awareness campaigns against live-in relationships. It is worth considering whether that time and money might be better spent in campaigns to sensitise the functionaries of the justice system instead.

📰 ‘Zero budget natural farming can solve farmers’ issues’

Noted agriculturist apprises peasants of his research on forest vegetation, techniques for natural growth

•The zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) was highlighted as an alternative method of agriculture, shifting away from big irrigation projects, farm loan waiver and fertilizer subsidy, to address agrarian distress and resolve the plight of peasants at a training camp for farmers organised at Sewar in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district on Wednesday.

•Noted agriculturist Subhash Palekar, who has pushed for adoption of ZBNF, apprised the farmers of his research on forest vegetation and the techniques for natural growth of trees at the six-day-long camp, which is the first one devoted to natural farming in the State. About 6,000 small and marginal farmers from Rajasthan and other States are attending the camp.

Chemical-free farming

•Maharashtra-based Mr. Palekar — recipient of the Padma Shri in 2016 — threw light on his “zero budget approach” to chemical-free farming involving manures and agro-ecology. He said farmers could face the present crisis if they learnt the techniques of reducing input costs, replacing pesticides with traditional material and preparation of indigenous seeds.

•Mr. Palekar said land productivity had decreased because of constant use of chemical fertilizers, while climate change had posed new challenges and put the farmers in the vicious circle of loans, often resulting in their suicide. “Farming has become a loss-making occupation. Farmers are not getting remunerative prices for their produce because of a number of factors.”

•Mr. Palekar said the Union and State governments should promote ZBNF by changing the policies adopted during the green revolution. The Union government’s Economic Survey of 2018-19 had advocated ZBNF as a “lucrative livelihood option” for small farmers, while it could be taken up with negligible investment and save 90% of irrigation waters.

•Sita Ram Gupta, executive director of Bharatpur-based Lupin Foundation, which is organising the camp, said the farmers could also take up avocations such as beekeeping, dairy farming, pisciculture and poultry farming on their agricultural land.

•Rajasthan Minister of State for Technical Education Subhash Garg said the ZBNF had the potential to strengthen rural economy and the State government would try to include it in its new agricultural policy.

📰 New IPCC report warns of dire threat to oceans

‘Increased temperatures, further acidification, marine heatwaves, more frequent extreme El Niño and La Niña events,’ reads the summary of the report

•With representatives from nearly 200 countries at the United Nations Climate Summit underway in the United States, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the apex referee for scientific evidence on the impact of global warming — made public a special report on Wednesday that underlined the dire changes taking place in oceans, glaciers and ice-deposits on land and sea.

‘Unprecedented’

•“Over the 21st century, the ocean is projected to transition to unprecedented conditions with increased temperatures, further ocean acidification, marine heatwaves and more frequent extreme El Niño and La Niña events,” according to a summary of the report made available to policymakers.

•The report updates scientific literature available since 2015 — when the IPCC released its comprehensive 5th Assessment Report — and summarises the disastrous impacts of warming based on current projections of global greenhouse gas emissions.

•“It is virtually certain that the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970 and has taken up more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system (high confidence). Since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled. Marine heatwaves have very likely doubled in frequency since 1982 and are increasing in intensity,” the report notes.

•The Southern Ocean accounted for 35%–43% of the total heat gain in the upper 2,000 m global ocean between 1970 and 2017, and its share increased to 45%–62% between 2005 and 2017.

•The ‘Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ was prepared following an IPCC Panel decision in 2016 to prepare three Special Reports and follows the Special Reports on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR1.5), and on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL).

Countries’ commitment

•The 1.5°C report was a key input used in negotiations at Katowice, Poland last year for countries to commit themselves to capping global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century.

•“A major impact is in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Regions,” said Anjal Prakash, a researcher at The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) School of Advanced Studies, and among those involved with the report, adding, “Floods will become more frequent and severe in the mountainous and downstream areas of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, because of an increase in extreme precipitation events... the severity of flood events is expected to more than double towards the end of the century.”

📰 Different peas in different pods

Unlike IT, it would be a mistake to look at the biotechnology sector through the lens of employment generation only

•India is among the first countries to set up a specialised agency for the development of research and human resources in the biotechnology sector. More than three decades later, it is imperative to ask: has the biotechnology sector lived up to its promise? Or was it all faux optimism? More importantly, is the sector poised to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with, if not beat, the IT sector in creating jobs for the future? One needs to go beyond the traditional indicators such as the numbers of institutions formed, students and scientists trained, and the number of patents filed to judge the sector’s performance, and its impact on the economy and society as a whole.

•Modern biotechnological research is expensive. It requires a highly trained and skilled workforce and access to expensive instruments. So far, most of the high-quality research output has come from a handful of institutions with better scientific infrastructure. The rest, which forms the bulk of the research publications, is of mediocre quality. This is primarily due to a “publish or perish” culture that incentivises numbers over quality. Over the years, the focus of research has slowly shifted from fundamental to applied research. Why has India not produced another Jagadish Chandra Bose or G.N. Ramachandran despite the biotechnology research budget growing several folds? The fruits of applied research will only come when we start investing in basic research without asking for quick returns. While continuing and increasing the share of funding in basic research, the government should encourage and incentivise the private sector to invest substantially in applied research. Compared to the developed economies (the United States), biotechnology research in India is mainly funded by the public exchequer. Unless the private sector starts supporting applied research and engages with academic institutions, the innovation in applied and translational biotechnology will be minimal.

Field-specific issues

•Let us look at the creation of human resources and jobs in the biotechnology sector. In India, unlike the IT sector, a large pool of the English-speaking workforce, low wages of scientists (compared to the developed economies) and a sizeable institutional research base have not helped create more jobs in biotechnology. There may be several possible reasons. Biotechnology research often requires access to laboratories with high-end scientific infrastructure, the supply of expensive chemicals and reagents with minimum shipping time between the supplier and the user, and a disciplined work culture and documentation practice due to regulatory and intellectual property filing requirement. Additionally, unlike the products and solutions from the IT industry, biotechnology products and solutions often require ethical and regulatory clearance, making the process long, expensive and cumbersome.

•As the nature of the work in the biotechnology sector is specialised, most jobs are filled with experienced and skilled scientists leaving the demand for young and inexperienced ones low. In a global marketplace, having a large number of young professionals hungry to work at meagre wage coupled with the need of large corporations in the West to get work done cheaper created some of the large IT companies in India.

Advantage China

•However, for the biotechnology industry, the same honour went to China. Unlike India, China has many more labs with the best of scientific infrastructure; each with more number of skilled human resources trained in regimental work culture and trained to practise rigorous documentation. Chinese students and scientists outnumber Indians nearly 5:1 in most American universities in the life sciences/biology-related disciplines.

•A booming economy and a higher science budget coupled with a flexible hiring system have made Chinese universities and research labs attract many overseas Chinese scientists. Our government needs to make the process of hiring in our universities and national labs simpler and flexible, not necessarily provide more salary, to attract the bright overseas Indian scientists.

•Last, let us look at innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology creation. Unlike the IT sector, the biotechnology sector requires years of experience in the domain, access to labs with sophisticated instruments, sustained and long-term funding to innovate. The government has been supporting biotech entrepreneurs. Initiatives through the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) of the Department of Biotechnology to support the innovation ecosystems have resulted in an impressive outcome. For example, the funding has helped startup companies make nearly 50 biotechnology-related products that are in the market today. Moving beyond this, however, will require a different strategy and understanding of the mature biotech-led innovation and economy ecosystems. Two successful hotbeds for biotech innovation, Boston and Silicon Valley in the U.S., may provide us some clues.

A road map

•Along with the availability of funding, infrastructure and skilled workforce, the presence of top-notch research institutions and universities in the vicinity make these two places among the most attractive locations for biotech startup companies anywhere. Unlike the IT and e-commerce space, ideas for biotechnology companies are initiated in scientific research labs while their parent academic institutions work as feeders of intellectual property. Often technology is incubated, refined and tested for years in academic labs before it gets spun out. Therefore, and unlike the IT sector, a sustained innovation and product development model in the biotechnology field without enriching the academic institutions is not possible.

•The government is very encouraging and promoting entrepreneurship, but the culture of institutions and scientists to be entrepreneurial will take time. This will require a flexible policy in the institutes to allow scientists incubate startup companies in their labs while retaining their positions. Second, the government should let scientists from research institutions and universities take unpaid leave to join the industry for a fixed period. Similarly, the government should relax rules to appoint researchers from industry in faculty positions with the freedom to teach, participate, and take students. This academia-industry linkage will do the much-required communication and understanding of the problems at both ends. Without a sustained effort in encouraging and promoting science-driven innovation in our academic institutions, and a robust academia-industry collaboration, biotechnology-led innovation will not aid the nation’s economic growth.

•The future of biotechnology is bright in India. However, the sector is not going to displace the IT sector anytime soon in employment generation. Discoveries in biotechnology may help us solve some of the pressing societal issues of our time: cleaning our rivers, producing life-saving drugs, feeding our growing population with nutritious food and helping us clean the air we breathe. Therefore, it will be a mistake to look at the biotechnology sector through the lens of employment generation only. The need for the use of artificial intelligence-based tools and applications of big data in biology will leverage India’s strength in IT and move biotech innovations faster to the marketplace. Till then, India needs to do things patiently and work on the right side of the ethical and regulatory boundaries.




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