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Gaining Momentum



Take a walk around Jantar Mantar in Jaipur or Delhi and you will be struck by the complex astronomical observatories that Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur constructed in 1728, to calculate the rotation of the sun, planets and stars with startling accuracy. What is even more amazing is that these observatories were based on the astronomical parameters and computation methods set out by Aryabhatta in 476 AD to figure out the division of time, solar year, lunar month and planetary positions. It is these principles that Bhaskara applied to astronomy in the 7th century and the King built on a thousand years later. Like history, in India the scientific temper exists m a continuum of achievements.
 

Yet, when India became independent in 1947 after centuries of subjugation, the industrial revolution and the scientific achievements of the early part of the 20th century had all but passed her by. By the turn of the century however, India was one of the few countries to have developed a geo-synchronous satellite and super-computer with the same felicity, while making major strides in theoretical and applied research, an advanced nuclear programme, space remote sensing, biotechnology, electronics and oceanography. As a matter of fact, in the new world of information technology, India has struck the lucrative relation between science and economics.

It is in the area of atomic energy and nuclear power that India has made major achievements. With a basic mandate to produce safe and economical nuclear power using indigenous uranium and thorium resources, India is now capable of completing the entire nuclear fuel cycle from exploration and mining of nuclear fuel ore to power generation and waste management.

The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), a broad based multi-disciplinary organization is successful in building research reactors for the production of radioisotopes for advanced work in areas such as lasers, super-computers and in areas of national security. In response to India's national security concerns India has conducted two sets of underground nuclear tests in Pokhran, in the Rajasthan desert. The first was on 18 May, 1974 and the second, a series of five tests on 11 and 13 May, 1998. These included a thermonuclear device, a fission device and three sub-kiloton nuclear devices, which achieved India's goal of becoming a nuclear weapons power.


India has 12 nuclear power reactors in commercial operation, with each successive design evolving according to the demands of efficiency and safety. India's growing experience in nuclear technology has resulted in improving performance of its nuclear power plants. During 1999-2000, the gross electricity generation crossed 12,000 million units and the average capacity factor of the plants improved from 60 to 80 per cent. Meanwhile, the nuclear research centres have also been
successful in applying the production of radioisotopes to the fields of agriculture and medicine as well as to something as mundane as desalination of water!


The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) recently unveiled its third computer hardware breakthrough with the 100 gigaflops, Param 10000
supercomputer, which was developed because of technology sanctions on India. India is emerging as a global power in Information Technology (IT) as one of the
largest generators and exporters of software in the world. The Indian IT industry revenues in the software sector have grown more than ten fold from $50 million
in 1988-1989 to $57 billion in 1999-2000. The government has targeted an implementation plan to make India an IT superpower by the end of this decade and achieve a target of $50 billion in software exports by 2008. This requires focused initiatives to accelerate the internet revolution in India, creation of useful content in Indian languages, IT-enabled services, electronics, hardware manufacturing, exports, e-commerce and internet based businesses.


The Indian software industry has clocked an annual growth rate of above 50 per cent. The size of the industry has grown to Rs 243 billion in 2000 from Rs 159 billion in 1998, while software exports have registered an over 55 per cent growth. Indian software strength has been the availability of English-speaking technical manpower in abundance, that is well suited for analysis-oriented software development. IT now impacts influences on everyday life, for instance, in e-governance, to speed up disposal of legal cases as well as to help rural folk get the best price for milk! Indian software skills have been instrumental in fixing the Y2K problem in computer networks throughout the world as well as the computer-controlled train movement of the London Underground rail system. The Indian software industry is also moving up the value chain and into high-technology commerce and research which has broadened the scope for the industry worldwide.


A robust space programme was flagged off in 1972 and is now executed through the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), National Remote Sensing Agency and Physical Research Laboratory. The latest achievement has been the successful launch of the Geo-Synchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) which makes India the fifth country in the world to do so and sets the stage for launch of commercial satellites. The launch site at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh is deemed second only to Kourou site in South America for launching geo-synchronous satellites.


By marrying space technology with defence capabilities, Indian scientists have developed missiles with varying payloads which are conventional and nuclear capable. These include Prithvi, the surface-to-surface missile, Nag, the anti-tank missile, Akash, the medium-range surface-to-air missile and Trishul, short range surface-to-air missile. With the successful flight trials of the Agni II, India is now capable of deploying two-stage intermediate range ballistic missiles with a range of 2500 kms. But the Indian space programme has been developing space technology to varied fields such as broadcasting, telecommunications, meteorology, resources survey and management. The INSAT (Indian national satellite) system now covers most of these activities, and while the ability to broadcast trendy Indian entertainment programmes to other countries have contributed to the spread of Indian culture It has also helped to forecast cyclones and other natural disasters to be able to warn Indian fishermen in the cyclone-prone coastal areas.


Most importantly, the development of communication satellites has helped to link up with remote regions of the country, provided them with the latest education and technical tools which has helped enormously to educate the vast majority of the Indian population which still remain illiterate. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment beamed up specially structured TV programmes to direct reception sites in 24 far-flung villages across, the country. These indigenous remote satellites help villagers discover new underground water resources, warn authorities of depleting forest cover, provide data on ocean wealth, uncover hidden minerals and oil sources.


In the field of ocean development, India's 6000-km long coastline holds out the promise for huge natural and mineral resources waiting to be exploited. Recognizing India's research capabilities, the world community in 1987, allotted a mine site of 150,000 sq km m central Indian Ocean for exploration. India is also the only developing country to get pioneer status in the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1982. With a permanently manned base, Dakshin Gangotri in Antarctica, India has carried out several expeditions to the icy continent to map out its geological wealth, thereby getting consultative membership of the Antarctic Treaty in 1983.


With liberalization, research and development in science and technology, it has also moved out of the purely government controlled domain and private sector has been making significant strides in scientific research, driven by the need for Indian industry to be globally competitive. This led to very productive industry-laboratory linkages in contemporary India. A large number of achievements have been made in the area of information technology, software development and pharmaceuticals.


In the latter discipline, India is fast emerging as a global leader, including manufacturing of bulk drugs as well as new- age research. In this, India is embracing its ancient medical and health practices in combination with cutting edge modern medical research. Therefore, along with rediscovering the medicinal properties of neem and turmeric, Indian companies broke the western monopoly of the hepatitis-B vaccine, with the release of an indigenous recombinant DNA-based vaccine, much cheaper than the imported variety. This ability to produce crucial drugs at much lower prices recently led to Indian pharma giant Cipla offering to sell AIDS drugs to countries like South Africa at much lower rates, challenging the patent regimes of western drug companies.

Indian scientists recently unveiled a new anthrax vaccine, which has tremendous potential in these days of bio terrorism, a product distinct from existing ones because of a much reduced toxic effect on the body. It is also an Indian scientists' team that developed a bio-environmental control of malaria, which has emerged as a major landmark in the management of malaria in South Asia.


A signal achievement of independent India is the near doubling of average life expectancy since 1947. Life expectancy is now 61 years and it is higher in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. This improvement has resulted largely from improved availability and intake of food. The crude mortality rate has declined from 27.4 per 1000 population at the time of independence to nine in 1998.


India has 6000 years of leadership in Ayurveda. The basic approach to health care in the Ayurvedic system is a holistic one, ranging from attention to diet and lifestyle to the use of plant based drugs and therapeutic exercises. We should bring about blends of traditional health care practices and modern medicine. There has been a growing emphasis on traditional forms of healing which originated in India centuries ago the Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha systems of health care, along with yoga and meditation, all of which is being recognized as having intrinsic value, in these days of high stress lifestyles.


The Department of Biotechnology has started a programme in Human Genetics & Genome Analysis and related technology development in India. The main objective is to develop basic capabilities, strengthen existing institutions which have good expertise in this area and other institutions with expertise in related areas to initiate work in molecular genetics to take up some application oriented projects to reduce the burden of genetic disorders in the country. The major area, where work is being undertaken are human genome, genome diversity and gene therapy and bio-ethics. The focus of the Indian effort would be on utilization of the information on human genome for diagnosis, prevention and therapy of genetic disorders. It will identify, map and characterize new genes related to genetic disorders prevalent in India, and also to carry out studies on regulation of gene function, genotype-phenotype correlation and functional significance of repetitive DNA in the human genome. The focus of human genome diversity will be towards understanding the history and prehistory of the people of India - how the population of India relate to one another, how they relate to populations in other parts of the world, the level of diversity within and between communities, especially tribal communities. This will help to develop the new science of genetic epidemiology, that is the relationship between genomic variation and disease.


Through the 5000 years of Indian recorded history, there are innumerable instances of scientific discoveries that, in their time, changed the course of world science. Mahaviracharya, the Jain mathematician mentions operations with zero in the Ganita Sara Samgraha as far back as 850 AD. Actually the Jains turned out to be so adept at mathematics that their highest numeral anticipated the Alef (zero) of modern mathematics. Further back in time, around the 5th century BC, Brahmagupta became the first mathematician to solve the Pellian equation. In the Kalpasutras, written around 290 BC, Bhadrabahu solved the Pythagorean theorem. A century later, Aryabhatta, the astronomer in Samudragupta's court, calculated the most accurate value of the mathematical constant Pi in the Gitikapada. The Baksali manuscript, written on 72 leaves of birch bark in the third century BC, is an exclusively mathematical text that sets forth rules, provided examples and solutions to geometric, algebraic and arithmetic problems.


The great tradition of scientists and mathematicians continued into modern India. From Satyendra Nath Bose, who developed the Bose-Einstein statistics, India has produced scientists of international repute like Meghnad Saha whose theory of thermal ionization forms the basis of understanding of spectra observed in astrophysics and Srinivasa Ramanujan who made impressive contributions to the Number Theory. Sir C.V. Raman gave birth to the Raman Effect which is important for the study of molecular energy levels and Jayant Narlikar, who, together with Fred Hoyle made a signal contribution to the theories of the evolution of the universe.


With a wealth of scientific tradition to the brave new world of genetic engineering and space technology, India's unique footprint will remain in her ability to blend
the ancient systems with modern breakthroughs.

 

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