Edit & Opinion

Sc & Tech: To fight COVID19

The draft of the new Science and Technology Policy has been released which is the fifth policy document of the Government of India on the subject since independence. It aims at advancing towards inclusive and self-reliant India – Atmanirbhar Bharat. No amount of political will and ambition can make the country self-sufficient without appropriate support of S&T.

The policy is one of the most important public policies and like other policies, a comprehensive document touching several aspects. As science and technology has become an indispensable component of every field of human interests, needs, and activities, new policy has come at the right time.  

The present policy with multifarious objectives and labeled as Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2020 (STIP 2020) is drafted to  impart  a new outlook and strategy for S & T and Innovation by re-orienting priorities,  modifying sectoral focus  and strategies. STIP is more closely linked with the goals of socio-economic progress and welfare than the earlier policies.   In this way, S&T will become part of as well as promoter of development and not remain an independent and separate field of knowledge unrelated to day-to-day life.    

Science and technology is no longer considered two different fields. They are together and also linked with innovation. There is no technology without science and there is no science if it is kept a secret in textbooks. Innovation is the spirit behind the two. 

The word “innovation” was inserted in S&T Policy in 2013. The object was to build a robust innovative economic system in some key areas such as agriculture, industries, health, water, environment, infrastructure and so on. 

Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 – an annual publication with data from various sources including the World Intellectual Property Organisation and World Bank has placed India in rank 48 among 131 countries.  The index provides details of innovation performance of countries and economies around the world.  GII 2019 analysed medical innovation and landscape of the decade   1921-30 to see how technological and non-technological medical innovation will transform the delivery of healthcare worldwide.  

Similar ranking of countries was made for energy innovation in 2018 and food programme innovation in 2017. India’s performance was said to be remarkable in “ICT Services Exports” holding 1st rank in the publication of WIPO. For research and development, India was granted Rank 35 and Rank 9 for government’s on-line services which is increasing day-by-day due to technological advancement.

STIP 2020 is built over the previous policies and they all were designed to serve the needs of the time. The first Scientific Policy Resolution 1958 laid the foundation for scientific enterprise and temper which was missing totally under the British rule.  The Technology Policy Statement of 1983 spoke of self-reliance and turned attention to indigenous technology – a recognition of people’s science and technology to meet people’s aspirations. 

By the turn of the century, science had spread its wings far and wide to become an integral part of entire human life and all other disciplines so as to become itself multi-disciplinary. 2003 policy dealt with science and technology separately and also with their role in economic and social spheres. The strict barrier between science and humanities began to weaken in academic courses. International collaboration in scientific research and technological innovations followed opening the road to Open Science Policy. 

The fourth policy declared in 2013 introduced the term “innovation” and used it for economic system also. It came in the Decade of Innovation (2010-20) declared by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Infrastructure building became the primary concern in the development agenda,  be it any field – agriculture, industry, health and hygiene, education,  natural resources, transport and communications,  and so on. Centenary Session of the Indian Science Congress held in 2013 adopted the theme “Science for Shaping the Future of India”. The focus was on sustainable and inclusive growth for all.

STIP 2020 is drafted to revolve around the core principles listed as “de-centralised, evidence-informed, bottom-up, experts-driven, and inclusive” in its ends and strategies so as to meet the needs of development in the era of globalisation. Fast moving changes required today are possible only with innovations based on science and technology. Obsolete methods and instruments have to be removed in the same speed and enthusiasm as new ones are devised and applied to survive in the global market. The very purpose and goals of S&T have so radically changed between 1958 and 2020 that no individual and no household remains beyond its influence and impact.

STIP 2020, which is now coming into effect, has to address the situation that has arisen from COVID-19 pandemic. In the field of health which includes several sub-fields, science, technology, and innovation have a very important role.  Pandemics in particular demand policy interventions and innovative programmes not just for medical care but treatment of the patients. Prevention of the spread of the disease being a major concern, non-medical organisations and services are fully involved leaving no area of activity untouched. 

COVID-19 has underscored the pressing need of countries to focus more on elevating STI in policy and practice. People want STI to directly translate into benefits in their daily life, which means, in the era of COVID-19, the eradication of the disease. The UNO issued a call for Technology Solutions for tackling COVID-19 and its impacts.  

S&T sector comprises data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence – all of which are contributing to fight COVID-19. The pandemic that is going strong for more  than a year  has taught us the importance of disease tracking, contacts tracing, prediction outcomes, quarantine life, social distancing  strategies, etc., to control its spread.  At the same time, it has provoked thinking and action to minimize disturbances to normal life and to carry on domestic, social, economic, educational and other activities. For all kinds of relief processes including clearing health claims, we have to depend on technological support for efficiency, speed, and economy.    It is STI that has helped us to face the adverse impact of COVID-19.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) used to track infected persons with travel history, robots to deliver food and medicines, drones to disinfect public places, broadcasts and audio-messages to disseminate information and, so on have become common household words.  They are fruits of STI. 

Prompt and clear communication of all scientific advice and evidence-based findings, which are in the domain of S&T is absolutely necessary for international fight against COVID-19 or any other pandemic. On the other hand, circulation of fake news and false information – also possible through S&T – is a growing menace to be curbed.

Science – not just medical science – comprising a number of disciplines is concentrating on making vaccines for prevention of COVID-19 and its more virulent viruses. Therefore, criticism from some quarters regarding the relevance of STIP at this juncture is unwarranted. Political opposition to COVID vaccine is typical Indian political behaviour.  Opposition, if any, has to come from S&T. Science alone can refute another scientific finding and not political ideologies or faith and belief.  Individuals must trust scientific guidance.

 

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About the author

Dr.S.Saraswathi | INFA

Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi

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