news Thursday, July 16, 2015 - 05:30
Image for representation   "Is there one invention from India that has become a household name in the globe? Is there one technology that has transformed the productivity of global corporations? Is there one idea that has lead to an earth shaking invention to delight global citizens?," asked NR Narayana Murthy, chairman emeritus of Infosys, while addressing the second annual convocation of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, on Wednesday. It was of course a rhetoric. "...the reality is that there is no such contribution from India in the past 60 years," he said, answering his own question. Murthy in his speech compared India's inventions to that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which, he said, in the past 50 years made scores of inventions, including Global Positioning System, bionic prostheses, microchip and e-mail, that revolutionised the world. "It is appropriate to recall that all inventions like cars, electric bulbs, radio, television, computers, internet, lasers, robots and many other gadgets and technology happened thanks to the research by Western Universities."- Narayana Murthy  What Murthy said has often been repeated by several top Indian scientists. Lack of critical infrastructure along with poor investment in the field of research have been cited as major reasons why India scores poorly in innovation, even though the country boasts of a thriving human resource. The 2014 Global Innovation Index saw India slip 10 places as compared to 2013. It was ranked 76, even as other BRICS nations managed to improve their positions on the index. Mark F Schultz, Senior Scholar at the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property, George Mason University School of Law, had written in a 2014 article for The Hindu, that one of the challenges holding back India from reaching its potential when it came to innovation is its underdeveloped intellectual property system.   "Innovators and creators need to be able to secure their investment in developing their creations — or they often simply won’t create, and they surely won’t invest in commercialising and bringing products to market." "Research shows that stronger intellectual property rights are associated with a large number of outcomes likely to help a nation bridge the innovation gap. Nations that protect intellectual property file more patents, have more researchers, invest more in R&D, and enjoy more Foreign Direct Investment," Schultz wrote. We do speak highly of the developments we've made in the IT industry, and Murthy too pointed out Infosys's role, but looking at a regular urban household setup, how many things can we point out and say was innovated in the country? There's also the tendency of "jugaad". "In the field of innovation, India's image is bad across the world because of our tendency to have 'jugaad' (to do something in a make-shift way), which means getting less from less people. Somehow cost is the only consideration and not the safety in India. "We bypass everything and somehow fix things. I don't like this," eminent scientist Raghunath Mashelkar said last year at a function in Goa. "Science has to be relevant to the society and to the people. Finally, it has to be influencing the people. It's not just science for the sake of science, but at the end of the day we should see what does it mean for the people," Mashelkar said.   We take a certain pride in our jugaad capabilities- which is usually a situation saver given the several constraints a country like India faces- but also seem to confuse it with innovation. While the former means fixing or getting something done somehow, the latter is to create an idea or build on an existing one. Noted scientist CNR Rao blamed it on the "lousy" quality of science in India. "If India has to have a future, it has to improve in quality. The main thing in India is that everything from the corporate (sector) and education to science needs to have quality. Our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) says development with quality improvement because with the lousy quality we have, it is difficult to have development," Rao said while delivering a lecture on "Celebration of Science" at Jamia Milia Islamia earlier this year. Why does India need to work harder for innovation? Apart from developments needed on the economic and productivity front, there are other reasons too why India needs to scale up its innovations. Rishikesha T Krishnan for The Hindu wrote that it was only around 2009 that the government decided to observe the next decade as the decade of innovation. "Why did the Government suddenly embrace innovation? Essentially because it realised that given our resource endowments, we could not hope to achieve our national goals within a reasonable time by imitating the developed world," he said. "The US healthcare system, for example, costs that country 20 per cent of its GDP. Emulating it would never be viable in a much poorer country such as ours which has four times the population of the US. The desire for innovation in India has, thus, been driven by a search for low-cost solutions to public problems," he added. At a time when the government is aggressively marketing the "Make In India" campaign, may be it will also do good to focus on the importance of innovation and the discuss the consequences in the lack of it. Read Narayana Murthy's entire speech here. Narayana Murthy Speech at IISc by Kevin Cohen

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.