Awards / Innovation

Dr RA Mashelkar’s address to students at the GYTI 2014 Awards

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by PadmaVibhushan Shri Raghunath A. Mashelkar on March 29,2014 on the occasion of the Gandhian Young Technological Innovation Awards held at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. More details about the event can be found on the  GYTI Awards blog post and the award innovations are listed on the Techpedia website.


Dr Mashelkar

I want to warmly congratulate all the winners today but also the winners of the last year and the year before last.

When I was going around (GYTI exhibition) today, I was feeling younger, I was feeling amazed at the quality of mind that our young children and students have. What touched me most was that these innovations were not just about making the next supercar or next superbike or super-plane:  They were about making the life of every Indian, not some, a bit better. That means you’re thinking not just from your head but from your heart. That’s something very special. I travel quite a bit — I was in Europe three times in last 20 days.  And the image outside India, unfortunately, is that of a `jugaad India’. And I simply do no like this. Why? Jugaad’ is getting less from less for lesser people, getting it somehow, reducing the cost, and with no consideration for safety. That’s not My India.  My India is what I saw outside (exhibition). My India is one that is a leader in affordable excellence.  Now, some might say, that is a contradiction, because what is affordable cannot be excellent and what’s excellent can’t be affordable. I’m sorry, they have got it wrong. India has shown that it can make this seemingly impossible, possible, again and again.

By using the latest cutting-edge technology, you’re not doing `jugaad’, putting something together somehow.  You’re creating world-class excellence. Let me go through some of the examples. Compliance is a big problem in treatment of TB.  One of the solutions on display was just about solving that problem. Diagnostics is another area, where India faces huge challenges. Electronics based diagnostics sometimes can be a big  problem.  When something goes wrong, someone has to repair, and there’s often none to repair. So why not paper based diagnostics, no electronics? Take the case of Fuel cell — the whole world is talking about alternative designs — and so paper-based fuel cell. You look at, for example, a very low-cost solution to detect whether you have pneumonia, and what does it cost? You look at breast cancer through  a new design of diagnostics based on photonics. Visually impaired — you are concerned about those who cannot see and you created an Email system for them. You’re concerned about safety and security, whether it is helmet-based design, or stampede-based image analysis; whether it is — I particularly loved this point — giving all the gadgets to women to make sure we don’t have another unfortunate Nirbhaya, who was a victim of an unimaginable brutality in New Delhi last year. So what you are trying to do is, think from the point of view of those who are have-nots, those disabled, those for whom something needs to be done under great adversity, and you are creating products for them. To me, this was the highlight of what I saw. And I, therefore, feel a very happy man today. 

You know, we always read in newspapers all the bad news: `India is gone . . .  this and that is happening.’ Somebody will take World Innovation Index and say, `last year, we were 62 and  now we are 64.’ Those people, who take the index seriously, should come here and see what is being done. I say this, and we always said this: How Prof. Anil Gupta could conceive this idea of Honey Bee? And you’re right, Anil, if Honey Bee Network was not there, National innovation Foundation would not be there.  If HBN was not there, an evening like this would not be there. That’s why I say, India does not have 1.2 billion mouths but 1.2 billion minds. And, it is incredible, when you see their manifestation. You suddenly find them doing innovations of an incredible nature! 

Look at Yerwada jail in Pune, which has about 3600 inmates. They have to make around 10000 chapathis or rotis for lunch and the same number for dinner. They apparently had a dough-making machine. A convicted  inmate was very innovative, saw the process in practice then and he was not happy: Machine wasn’t working well, it was not mixing dough well and quality of rotis was not good. With his innovation, the quality and speed improved. You know, I used to talk so much about the importance of Indians patenting their inventions, that people used to refer to me as ‘patentkar’, rather than as ‘Mashelkar’. This had been known to these inmates also. So they went to the Superintendent and said some Mashelkar talks about patenting, whenever we have a  new idea. So we wnt to patent this. Can we take a patent on this?’  I am told that a pune patent attorney Mr Ponkshe, who is no more, helped them! A jail inmate innovating, can one imagine!

 We must understand that innovation is about thinking differently, doing things differently for making a difference. The first part you have done, you have demonstrated what you can do.  But the story is not complete. Has it made a difference? And that difference, we have to help them make together.

Finally, at the end of the day, what you have designed for the TB (&) pneumonia patients etc., has to finally reach them. And that is where we require a robust, a conducive national innovation ecosystem.  Idea is  like a seed. But you don’t eat seeds. You eat the fruit. How does one go from seed to fruit?The seed has to be put in fertile soil so it can germinates; you have to give inputs like water, and fertilizer. Finally, it has to grow into a tree. It’s a long journey — the mind to marketplace. And, therefore, what we did today is the first step.  And for making a difference, finally, we all will have to help you. And we promise that every possible help will be given in every possible way by us with the kind of organization connections and network we have.

Let me come back to the  image we have on India. In the past, a meeting was organized abroad on a new report called `Reimagining India’.  I have written this book `Reinventing India.’ So I said the challenge is not `reimagining’ but `Reimaging India’. Why, because the kind of image we have outside (is) that of a `jugaad nation, a corrupt nation’, among others. Is this kind of image fair? When one sees the ground reality, as I saw today: one finds plenty of  an innovative India, who is a leader in creating inventions that belong to the unique class of   affordable excellence.

 Recently I was  in Brussels, where  they had asked me to give a talk on `Innovation under Adversity.’ And what I am particularly proud of, is that they began the session with the video of one of our award winners, Remya, who had developed that pedal-driven washing machine, which Discovery Channel had made video on. And when I finished my talk, they ended it with the `Bicycle on water’ by Saidullah yet another of our award winners. Can you imagine 1200 people in the audience from all over the world in that Innovation Forum 2014 looking at these two films as inspiration for them on how to `Innovate under Adversity?’ What can be a greater tribute to Indian ingenuity . . .

One of the questions asked at the end of my talk was: how could our experience help EU member nations. I referred to our eternal belief  in  ‘Vasudhaiva  Kutumbakam’.. We yearn for improvement in quality of life not just for some of us who are sitting here but for all Indians, not for some Indians but all Indians and not just for  all Indians but the whole world. Therefore, the innovations that I saw today are directed towards making India do well, not some Indians do well. I think that is extraordinarily important.

I will like to end by reiterating three core issues:  affordability, sustainability and quality.  Every innovation that we do must meet these benchmarks, because we don’t want anything that’s substandard, not sustainable, or destroys the environment and ecological balance. And `affordability’ because it has to be good for all, not good for some. Take this message home and ensure that everything you do in life should be directed to this.

Last point, I am often referred to as `a dangerous optimist’. Now I am 71, and I am getting little worried. I can see India progressing.  I can see India is going to make it. I can see 30 years from now what India will be, and I feel sorry I would not be there. So I was saying I would like to negotiate with the  God that he can take away whatever days I have been  left with, but give me one day after 30 years, when I can come back for just one day and see My India. But, by the way, this deal with the God is now off because you have added so much life and so many years to my life today,  that I don’t have to do that now!

God Bless You.


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