The entire country celebrated the unique achievement of Indian space scientists when in the first attempt, the Mangalayan reached the orbit of Mars. Naturally, the celebration was much deserved. However, every time our public sector scientists achieve extraordinary results without any extra bonus, monetary incentives, or accelerated promotions, a question arises as to how much more they could do if we could improve their working conditions. The financial and administrative rules under which space and DRDO scientists have to often work are not always conducive to most efficient and empathetic governance culture. The young startups who co-create many solutions for defence labs and sometimes even for space do not get to compete for the tenders because they don’t have sufficient turnover or cash flow. The entire system of public procurement, particularly in strategic sectors, needs to be recast so as to encourage innovations and entrepreneurship.
It is not jugaad!
There are several other facets that need to be considered while looking at the role of these organisations. Both Chandrayan and Mangalayan mission could be achieved in almost 1/10th of the global cost. This is a testimony to the innovative and frugal culture of the scientists. It is a pity that some leading newspapers try to mislead the common people by calling the mission as an example of so-called jugad culture. Jugad reflects a mindset of getting around the problem, finding a temporary solution but not developing a durable, systematic solution. It is an extremely irresponsible trivialization of the enormous complexity involved in such missions. No country can ever progress by using jugad mindset.
Most of the engineers and scientists who made MOM mission possible come from so-called grade b and c engineering colleges. The last IITian and IIMite is reported to have joined ISRO in early 80s. Of late, IITians have begun to join in trickle recently. This is not to discount the excellence pursued by these institutions. But, excellence without relevance and social commitment cannot make missions like MOM feasible. We should pay a tribute to those tens of thousands of engineers coming from middle class, having studied in ordinary colleges and are committed towards technology development, manufacturing and other related sectors. The state technical universities must be empowered and strengthened to mobilise their students to achieve much higher standards of excellence, relevance and social sensitivity. The State technical education department may not often allow the VCs to use the funds mobilized from students for funding their start ups and internship with communities and informal sector. Of course, we also have some examples of opposite kind where VC shave squandered such funds in non-productive purposes. There is a need to re-look at the extent and quality of commitment towards promotion of excellence.
Asian leadership in a strategic sector has to be complimented. If it leads to more regional collaboration, it will strengthen the solidarity. People should not forget that Indian space scientists have had to work in an environment where USA and several other countries did not let India acquire strategic components and other process information. Perhaps, without the US sanctions, India would not have developed, Param, the super computer, Chandrayan and Mars mission, and numerous other distinctions. During the US visit, the Prime Minister may be confronted with a dilemma of increasing Indo-US cooperation with the uncertainty of long term outcomes. Country should also express gratefulness towards Russia, which provided several critical technologies at times when nobody else was willing to help us. May be the Prime Minister should visit Russia next.
A large number of space technologies can have spin-off for a variety of civilian applications, some which the developer of original technology may not be able to even imagine. We had identified a long list of such technologies that can spur the innovations in manufacturing sector. Getting one’s ideas utilized is itself a source of great motivation. But, if it happens with some benefit sharing, then mutuality between developer and user may increase a great deal.
When we celebrate the achievement of Indian science, we may also like to recall that we had eight science and technology ministers in ten years. Doesn’t this sector deserve not only more resource allocation, but also much more empowered and empathetic governance? Very soon, we will forget about this achievement. The news from our scientific labs will go to inside pages of newspapers and may be published occasionally. The so-called, “Mangli” girls will be considered inauspicious for no fault of theirs. The celebration of science goes hand in hand with so much of time on public media used for spreading superstitions. Government lost a golden opportunity of using mass attention towards MOM as a means of spreading scientific temper and more rational approach. Can it not still unleash a campaign against superstitions.
I hope that we will use these achievements to influence the mass consciousness by making people inquisitive, rational and pursue a scientific approach to develop every day practice.