Using Science and Technology for People’s welfare 

By P. Sunderarajan

The people of the port city of Vishakhapatnam and its neighbourhood in Andhra Pradesh will never be able to forget October 12, 2014, the day they had a tryst with the very severe cyclone Hudhud.

As the storm slammed into the city with wind speeds reaching 200 km per hour and moved into the interiors it was feared that a massive disaster was on hand. There was no doubt huge loss of property. But, fortunately, the loss was life was not as high as expected for such a severe cyclonic storm. The storm had led to a loss of less than 200 lives while comparable storms in the earlier years had resulted in deaths in thousands.

The major credit for the minimal loss of live goes to the manner in which the authorities were able to evacuate people from the path of the storm well before it struck. In an unprecedented move, over 7 lakh people were evacuated and moved to relief camps in safer places.

The authorities were able to undertake this task thanks to timely and accurate predictions of all aspects of cyclone genesis, intensity, track, land fall as well as associated rainfall, gale wind and storm surge by scientists at the India Meteorological Department under the Central Government’s Ministry of Earth Sciences.

Scientists at IMD and other segments of the science and technology sector in the country have over the years been working hard to understand nature and develop new tools and techniques to improve upon the country’s social and economic life.

Scientists and technologist have helped reduce poverty and advance prosperity; fight hunger and improve nutrition; conquer diseases, improve health and give children a better chance to survive; connect the individual to their loved ones and the world at large: and spread education and awareness. Well the list can go on and on.

The efforts got a major boost last year with the new Government at the Centre under the leadership of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, taking steps to introduce new schemes and programmes and put in place new mechanisms to ensure that developments in science and technology were utilized to the maximum extent to benefit all sections of society.

During the past one year, the Ministry of Earth Sciences, for instance, has provided agro-meteorological advisories through mobile phones to 7.1 million farmers in 505 districts, launched customized weather forecast service for the holy yatra to Amarnath Cave and commissioned a weather forecasting system at the heliport serving pilgrim going to Vaishnodevi.

In addition, a SMS-based disaster alert system for cyclones, storms and heavy rains was dedicated to the nation and two moble applications for android phones and tablets called India weather and SAFAR-Air has been launched. India Weather is designed to give current day and four-days advance forecast of weather in 310 cities across the country, while Safar-Air provides air quality information for the metro cities in the country.

For the alert system, individuals or organisations will just have to register their telephone numbers on the IMD website []. Besides giving information about the impending natural calamities, the system will also suggest what action needs to be taken. The mobile apps, in turn can be downloaded from google play store free of cost. The Safar-Ai r app also provides health advisories in terms of color coded system to help the user comprehend the air quality easily.

The Government has also sanctioned over Rs 1,050 crore for acquisition of a polar research vessel for ocean and polar research and India’s first moored observatory was deployed in the Arctic in July last year. Equipped with multi-sensor capabilities, the sub-surface observatory at a depth of 180 m will be able to capture data even during winter when the surface will be frozen.

The NDA Government has also taken an initiative to give a major boost to the super computing capabilities in the country by giving approval for a national supercomputing mission at a total cost of Rs. 4,500 crore. The mission is to be jointly implemented by the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Electronics and Information Technology. The key deliverables of the mission including of 70 +  high power  installations, establishment of a high power computing grid, development of high power computing applications and manpower development and research and development for next generation exa-scale high power computing.

Further, measures have been taken to make better use of the latest developments in space technology for providing good governance. The Department of Space has constituted 18 expert teams to hold pro-active interactions with various Central Ministries and Departments to identify ways in which space technologies could be applied to meet the various needs of the country in a more effective manner.

Among other things, the Government also gave its green signal for India’s participation in the Thirty Meter telescope project at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA at a total cost of Rs. 1,299.8 crore. The Indian science is expected to benefit immensely both in terms of science and technology from the international project, in which US, Canada and Japan and China are also participating.

On technology front, design, prototyping, testing, validation and manufacture of various items required for the first of its kind telescope in the world would bring in know how for new and cutting edge technologies. These are expected to have long term spin-off advantages for the country.

On science front, in turn, after commission of the telescope, which is scheduled to happen in in 2022-23, India will get 25-30 assured observational nights on it. This will enable Indian astronomers to study front ranking scientific problems such as formation and evolution of stars, planets and galaxies.

The NDA Government has also fulfilled a long pending demand of research scholars for revision of fellowships for various categories of scientists. Across the board hike is at least 50 per cent more than what was existing before. While the amount for Junior Research Fellows has been hiked from Rs. 16,000 to Rs. 25,000, that for senir research fellows has gone up from Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 28,000 and for research associates from Rs. 22,000, Rs. 23,000 and Rs. 24,000 to Rs. 36,000, Rs. 38,000 and Rs. 40,000 respectively,

A new scheme to attract women to science by bringing about gender parity was also launched during the last one year. Called Kiran [Knowledge Involvement in Research Advancement through Nurturing] the scheme aims to provide opportunities for women scientists, who had a break in their career primarily due to family responsibilities.  The programme includes women exclusive schemes and encourages them to foster their carerr by undertaking research not only in science and engineering, but also for societal benefits besides making a career through entrepreneurship. As part of one such programme, six women tech entrepreneurs

The Government is working towards setting up of five technical research centres in the autonomous institutions under the Department of Science and Technology to speed up transfer and commmercialisation of technologies developed by them. The programme was announced by the Finance Minister as part of his Budget Speech last year.

The first year of the new Government also saw the deployment of a drilling vessel for the first time in Arabian Sea to drill into the Indian Ocean plate to better understand the evolution of the Indian summer monsoon and the laying of the foundation stone for an ocean research facility of the National Institute of Ocean Technology near the sea front at Thupilipallam village in Vakadu Mandal near Nellore in Andhra Pradesh.

Besides, a deep sea search operation was conducted for the first time at a depth of 180 metres, when a “lost’ heavy weight torpedo called Varunastra was successfully recovered and 34th expedition was undertaken to the two Indian stations Maitri and Bharat was undertaken

In addition, in line with the Government’s make in India programme, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Aerospace Laboratories [NAL] and IMD have signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly produce Drishti, a transmissometer developed by NAL. A transmssometer is a visibility measuring system for use while planes take off and land in airports.Plan is to produce and deploy 70 pieces of the system at airports across the country.

Last one year also saw induction into the Indian Army of `Dhvani’, a state of the art marksmanship training system developed indigenously and India gaining a place in the global photonic research arena with the launch of a broad spectrum confocal microscope. .

Further,the Prime Minister himself launched the first indigenously developed vaccine against Rotavirus. The vaccine is expected to help reduce the incidence of diarroheal deaths among  children by 56 per cent during the first year of life, with protection continuing into the second year of life.

Outlining the vision of the Government at the 102nd session of the Indian Science Congress earlier this year, Mr. Modi, noted that the Government was alive to the fact that though the achievements of the past were praise worthy much more was left to be done. “Our achievements give us pride, but they do not blind us to the enormous challenges that we face in India. We are at yet another moment of expectation and excitement, as were at the birth of India’.

Addressing the gathering which was made up of scientists at different levels, from nobel  laureates to junior research fellows as also school and college teachers and students, he said that his  Government would lay greater emphasis on ease of doing research in the country. When I speak of ease of doing business in India, I also want to pay equal attention to the ease of doing research and development in India’.

The journey has begun well. Indian science and technology is poised to reach new heights in the years to come.

( P.Sunderarajan is a freelance journalist.)