Dr. Vijay Kumar Saraswat, is a scientist of international renown and an accomplished researcher with more than four decades of experience spanning over several fields Born at Gwalior on 25 May 1949, Dr. Saraswat completed his engineering from Gwalior; Master of Engineering from IISc Bangalore followed by Ph.D from Osmania University.
During his illustrious career, he held the twin posts of Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister and Director General DRDO & Secretary to Dept of Defence R&D. Dr. VK served as Project Director Prithvi Missile and Programme Director, Ballistic Missile Development (BMD) Programme. In addition, he did pioneering work in the indigenous development of many defence systems.
Dr. Saraswat received PADMASHRI in 1998 and was awarded the prestigious PADMABHUSHAN in 2013 other than these he is the recipient of many national and international awards.
Dr. Saraswat presently is the Member NITI Aayog and Chancellor of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University and shouldering many honorary positions in Government and Academic Institutions.
Q. How easy or difficult is the challenge of re-creating the culture of innovation, which is the part of this Indian soil since ancient times making India, the leader of many knowledge domains including mathematics, astronomy, medical science, missile technology, space technology?
A. The very strong background of Indian innovation system, right from the invention of zero to our great Vedas in which we have incidence of innovation in the variety of fields like surgery, language, technology and mathematics and so on, today we have come to a stage that our innovation index in the global network is around 57 out of 153 countries. This is a situation, fortunately, over the last 4 years there has been a significant improvement in this, in 2015 we were on 85 then we came down to 76 and now we are 57. So there has been change and a favorably good change.
Q. What are the factors responsible for the decline in the culture of innovation and knowledge creation in India?
A. One of the first reasons for this decline is our education system. The Modern Education System which was put in place by Lord Macaulay in 1863, it had only one intention that is to create Indian students with an Indian face but with a mentality of Britishers and that mentality was basically used to create people who could do clerical jobs and only provide some assistance to Britishers to do their business in this country. That was the first and foremost reason because of which our innovation system declined and that is why institutions like Takshshila and Nalanda, which were the hub of innovation and knowledge were reduced to zero and today we have an education which is nothing but a legacy of Britishers education system. There are some barriers to our innovation system even today, firstly, infrastructure, secondly, knowledge gap, thirdly, our tendency of not taking risks, we are a risk averse society, fourthly, our industrial revolution was based upon imported technologies and not on home-grown technologies except in few departments. Even today it is continued and as a result we are not able to do innovation in these areas. Generally innovation is incremental innovation in which you build on something that is already there but we are not able to that because of foreign technology. Slowly we are starting this but creative innovation is happening slowly.
Q. Atal Innovation Mission is initiated with all appropriate goals, what has been the experience, positive and negative in implementing the vision till now?
A. Atal Innovation Mission is a very noble and progressive way of doing innovation because this is focused on grassroots levels. We are taking innovations in schools and colleges and industries so the complete scenario of innovation has been changed. Now today AIM with more than about 1500 labs have been created in various schools has resulted in children above 6th class are able to use technology like 3-D printing, computers, electronics and they are able to do very good work. They are making UAVs, some software applications which are able to solve problems of many things. We find that creating such an innovation system in the schools with the mentoring system which is also being provided along with the labs has really helped in improving the cause of innovation. Now we are starting Small Business Innovation System, where we are going to introduce this innovation to small scale industries, in the startups that are coming up with ideas to help them grow.
Q. Transferring technologies from lab to ground demands active involvement of management and marketing expertise. Negligence of these two domains is the major cause of failure of many technologies in their journey from lab to ground. What do you think about this?
A. Translating technology is a major task and above this developing technology is already a major task so firstly you should have a good technology base for innovation to take place. Now, there is a curve called Innovation Life Cycle. The innovation Life Cycle is in which a technology developer gets an idea then he further develops it, he does some experiments and if he find success in those experiments, he would be very excited but on technology level he would be on an initial stage. Now he has to take that concept to a larger scale and he finds it difficult to do so he starts falling down into valley of death. When he gets into the valley of death that is when he needs support whether it be knowledgeable or infrastructural or financial. If he gets this from the Innovation Eco-system. When he gets this he goes on to the Path of Enlightenment. He has to know scale the technology up so that it is visible to the industry for this he needs money. This eco system needs to be developed in the country. We have to create Value Addition Center which will be responsible of bridging the gap between industry demand and the capability of national laboratory or university. This gap should be fulfilled, and VAC will also support the developer in Valley of Death.
Q. What are the possibilities you envisage from CSR domain for promotion of an innovation culture in India and supporting the Atal Incubation Center in country?
A. I think CSR can do a wonderful job; Corporates are in a position to provide required resources as a venture capitalist or angel investor when the innovation is in valley of death and they can pull it out. CSR can help them in creating necessary infrastructure. For example CSR can help in AIM in multiplying to more laboratories. CSR can also help setup collaboration between a foreign agency and Indian agency to support the cause of innovation. CSR can also help in bring industry and innovators together. They should come out of regular stereotypes like you cannot do CSR with Government. I think there should be no boundaries.
Q. There is an obvious role of collaboration among Government, corporate, academia and NGOs for creating an optimum impact on the innovation scene in any country. How healthy is the environment in India for such multiple domain collaborations?
A. In fact today the number of schemes that the Department of Science and Technology and Government of India has initiated for e.g.- National Innovation Foundation, Atal Innovation Mission etc. are fairly large and The DST and NITI Aayog are prioritizing areas in which innovation can take place, they are making the laboratories and universities work together. There is a scheme in the case of DST the industry and the university can put up a proposal together to work on a particular innovation. There was a project jointly by IIT Delhi and Thermax to develop a coal gasification process using the Indian High Ash Content Coal, this has been funded by DST today almost 70 crores has been sanctioned for this project.
Q. Corporate leaders mandated to implement CSR projects seem to be not aware of all possible choices including AIM. How do you attract the attention of Corporate India towards AIM?
A. First of all Corporates has to understand that innovation will take place only if they are in the knowledge hub so in their own segment wherever the industry is whether private or public, they have to invest in research and development , they have to create an eco-system. If there is no investment on research and development in the private sector, innovation will not thrive even if you are taking technology from foreign outside world. For incremental innovation and improving quantity and quality, you need R&D and because we did not do it for last 70 years our industry has remained to the extent of whatever has been given to us from foreign suppliers. We have not made any increment whereas China has done incremental development over what they acquired from various countries like USA and Europe and as a result today they have their own product and on Global Innovation Index they are at 45.
Q. Corporate Leaders in India unlike the west hesitate to work with Government because of the image of Government in the eye of the corporates. How can you change this situation in India to make corporate leaders more comfortable to engage with the Government?
A. This is a story of past, it is no more valid. Today, the programs by Government of India are so progressive in nature the ease of doing business has considerably improved today. We have got single window everywhere and even after this if corporates find it difficult to work with the Government then it is because of their own doing. It is just inertia of the past and there is enough opportunity for the corporates to work with the Government of India. NITI Aayog itself is today in various domains actually asking people to come up. We have thrown up a challenge that 37 aspirational districts have to come to certain level of performance in terms of human competitive index. Now we are throwing up problems like how do you improve agriculture? How do you improve living conditions? So we are asking the people to come with proposals and we are looking to support that in many ways.
Q. Do you see media promotion as a positive catalyst in engagement of stake holders and improving the impact of Atal Innovation Mission?
A. Media is a very strong platform and today Atal Innovation Mission uses media in a big way for e.g.- we have a portal for people to comment , we are conducting various program with the help of media, electronic and print both. Wherever monitoring is going on, the media is reaching there. So the coverage of media of our AIM is very extensive and they are in a continuous dialog between the innovators, mentors like NITI Aayog and other stakeholders with the media to support the spirit of AIM.
Q. Anything you would like to share with our viewers/readers?
A. Innovation is the engine of growth and unless industries understand that economy will develop only if we do innovation. For innovation you should have a strong technology base, you should generate knowledge, covert knowledge into wealth, that is innovation and unless knowledge is converted into a value added product, it is of no use. We need to create that kind of an ecosystem and all schemes of Government of India are driving today for national laboratories, universities, industry partners to cushion the eco-system of innovation which has come up in the country today.