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CONTRIBUTIONS OF INDIAN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

17th April, 2022 Mains

Introduction

Several scientific and technological developments have touched the lives of common people in the last seven decades.

In the past seven decades, India has built satellites and sent probes to the moon and Mars, established nuclear power stations, acquired nuclear weapon capability and demonstrated firepower in the form of a range of missiles. Undoubtedly these are all fabulous achievements of Indian scientists and technologists.

At the same time, scientific research – combined with favourable public policies - has made India self-sufficient in production of food, milk, fruits and vegetables, drugs and vaccines. All this has had great social and economic impacts and directly and indirectly touched the lives of ordinary Indians. Developments in communications and information technology have enabled timely forecast of weather and early warning of cyclones, saving thousands of lives.

These are all results of investments made in scientific research soon after the independence and science-politics network built in decades prior to that. Investment in scientific research was 0.1 percent of GNP in 1947. It went up to 0.5 percent in less than a decade. Scientists like Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, Homi Jehangir Bhabha and Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis not only built scientific institutions but also helped shape policies.

Contribution

Here are some defining contributions of Indian science and technology since 1947:

Green Revolution

In 1947, India produced about 6 million tonnes of wheat which was grossly inadequate to meet the total demand forcing the country to depend on large scale imports. With measures such as land reforms, improvements in irrigation facilities, fertilizer production and Intensive Agriculture District Programme, wheat production rose to 12 million in 1964 – which was still insufficient to feed all Indians. While all this was going on, plant breeder Benjamin Peary Pal at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute was working on improving wheat varieties to achieve disease resistance and yield.

The first breakthrough came in 1961 when a dwarf spring wheat variety with the Norin-10 dwarfing gene – developed by Normal Borlaug in Mexico- was grown in IARI. It had reduced height but long panicles. Later semi-dwarf varieties were grown in farmers’ fields, yielding great results. These developments led to launch of the Hugh Yielding Varieties Programme covering not just wheat but rice, maize, sorghum and pearl millet. The All India Coordinated Wheat Research Project under Pal remains an outstanding example of agriculture research. By 1970, wheat production went up to 20 million tonnes and rice production to 42 million tonnes. Thus began the Green Revolution, making India self-sufficient in foodgrain production in the decades to come.  

 

White Revolution

At the time of the independence, India was not only importing foodgrains but also milk products like baby food, butter and cheese. In 1955, India was importing 500 tonnes of butter and 3000 tonnes of baby food from dairy companies in Europe. The dairy movement had started in 1946 with the founding of the Kaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union Limited under the leadership of Tribhuvandas Patel.

In 1949, Verghese Kurien arrived in Anand to fulfil the condition laid down in the bond he had signed with the government at the time of going to America for higher education with government scholarship. He stayed back and became General Manager of the cooperative in 1950. The dairy faced a problem of fluctuating milk production as surplus milk would find no takers. European dairy companies were not willing to part with milk powder technology and were of the view that buffalo milk can’t be converted into milk powder.

H M Dalaya, a young diary engineer working with Kurien at Anand, demonstrated with experiments that buffalo milk can be converted into milk powder. Dalaya assembled a device using a spray paint gun and an air heater to make powder from buffalo milk, for the first time in the world.

Later he showed that a commercially available machine, Niro Atomizer, could do the same. This laid the foundation for a dairy revolution in India and a national milk grid, making the country self-sufficient. 

 

Satellite and communication revolution

When Vikram Sarabhai, as chairman of the Indian National Committee for Space Research, in mid-1960s envisioned the use of satellite technology for communication, remote sensing and weather prediction, few people believed him because India then did not possess any capability in building a rocket or a satellite. He wanted India to use space technology for education, health and rural development.

Within a decade, India not only developed such a capability but demonstrated to the world peaceful use of space technology with the success of the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), and the launch of Aryabhata satellite from the Soviet Union.

In another decade, Indian scientists launched the landmark INSAT and IRS series of satellites, bringing communication and television services to millions of people across the country. Timely prediction of weather events like cyclones using India-made satellites has helped save lives. Through pioneering use of the VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technology, banking and other services were revolutionized in the 1980s.

Drugs and vaccines manufacturing

India today is known as ‘pharmacy of the world’ as Indian companies are supplying affordable drugs and vaccines to not only developing but also to developed countries. It has been a long journey from the time when Indian drug industry was dominated by foreign companies whose drugs were prohibitively costly.

In order to break the hold of multinational corporations, the central government established Hindustan Antibiotics Limited in 1954 and then the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL) with Soviet assistance. These public sector units – along with national laboratories like National Chemicals Laboratory (NCL), Regional Research Laboratory Hyderabad (now known as Indian Institute of Chemical Technology) and Central Drug Research Institute – played a central role in generating necessary knowledge base and human resources needed for Indian industry to grow.

The Patent Act of 1970 recognised only process patents, paving the way for Indian companies to make copies of patented drugs using alternative processes. CSIR labs developed processes for a range of drugs – ciprofloxacin, diclofenac, salbutamol, omeprazole, azithromycin etc. – and transferred the technology to private companies. Over next two decades, all this helped develop indigenous capabilities in both R&D and manufacturing.

C-DOT and telecom revolution

Like most other sectors, telecom sector too was dependent on supplies from multinational corporations, and due to high costs as well as shortage of foreign exchange new technology could not come in. The switching technology was considered strategic and only a handful of companies possessed it.  The waiting period for a telephone line in India in the 1970s was several years, and connectivity in rural areas was extremely poor.

The first attempt to develop an indigenous electronic exchange was initiated at the Telecom Research Centre (TRC) in the 1960s and the first breakthrough was a 100-line electronic switch developed in 1973. Around the same time, scientists at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), along with those from IIT Bombay, developed a digital Automatic Electronic Switch for the army. These efforts got a boost in 1984 when the government established the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT) by pooling scientific teams from TRC and TIFR under the leadership of Sam Pitroda.

The rural telephone exchange developed by Indians could work under harsh conditions and without air conditioning. The technology developed in public sector was transferred for free to private companies, ending the monopoly of multinational giants and rapidly bringing connectivity to rural areas. C-DOT exchange became popular in dozens of developing nations.    

 

IT revolution and railway computerisation

The data processing industry in India during the decades after the independence was dominated by two multinationals - IBM and ICL. The data processing machines of these two firms were in use in the government, public sector, armed forces as well as research institutes.

These companies brought old and discarded machines to India and leased them at high rentals. India needed latest computers for applications like National Sample Surveys, nuclear reactor development and other research. In order to break the monopoly of big companies and spur indigenous software and hardware development, the Department of Electronics was established in 1970.

Public sector companies like Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Computer Maintenance Corporation (CMC) and state electronics development corporations were established. The skills and knowledge thus developed got transferred to private industry.

The first major application of information technology was the passenger reservation project of the Railways launched in 1986. It was the largest such project which demonstrated how technology can improve efficiency, cut corruption and touch the lives of millions without the need for them owning a digital gadget.      

 

Blue Revolution

The ‘blue revolution’ refers to adoption of a set of measures to boost production of fish and other marine products. It was formally launched with the establishment of the Fish Farmers’ Development Agency during the Fifth Five-year Plan in 1970. Later on, similar development agencies were set up for brackish water development to boost aquaculture in several states.

The objective of all this was to induce new techniques of fish breeding, rearing and marketing, as well as initiate production of other marine products like prawns, oysters, seaweeds, pearls and so on, using new techniques and scientific inputs. Scores of new technologies developed by research institutes under the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) have been transferred to fish farmers all over the country. 

Some specific milestones of India in Science and Technology

Aryabhata- Once an astronomer, then a satellite

India launched its first satellite into space on April 19, 1975. Named after the ancient Indian astronomer, Aryabhata was constructed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to conduct experiments in X-ray astronomy, aeronomics, and solar physics and opened new possibilities for ISRO.

Test tube baby: The birth of Durga

The first test tube baby in India-and the second one in the world-was born in Calcutta on October 3, 1978. This was just 67 days after the world's first test-tube baby, Marie Louise Brown, was born in the UK.

India developed an indigenous seeker for Brahmos for the first time.

Brahmos is the world’s fastest and most formidable anti-ship cruise missile. This marks a big achievement and breakthrough for the supersonic missile as this is the first time the country has developed a seeker for a missile of this calibre and class.

Antarctic research: Gangotri at the South Pole

In 1983, India's first scientific base station in Antarctica was established, about 2,500 kilometres from the South Pole. Named Dakshin Gangotri, it was constructed during the third Indian expedition to Antarctica.

The base hosted an automatic weather recording station, and was also used to perform scientific tests on radio transmission. It also served as a hub for experiments in physical oceanography, chemical analyses of freshwater lakes in the area, as well as geology, glaciology and geomagnetism.

After the base was rendered inoperable, a new research station, Maitri-which also served as India's first permanent station at the South Pole-was constructed about 90 km away, in 1988. It serves as a base for front-ranking research and developments in basic and environmental sciences.

Agni-1

The Agni missile was not India's first ballistic missile. That distinction belonged to the Prithvi short-range ballistic missile first tested in 1988. But over the years, the Agni, now the name for a family of missiles of various ranges, has come to be the mainstay of India's strategic arsenal, capable of carrying nuclear warheads to targets over 5,000 kilometres away.

The missile was first test-fired on May 22, 1989. An 18 metre long, 7 tonne Agni missile with a range of 2,500 km was successfully launched into the Bay of Bengal from the interim test range in Chandipur, Orissa, in 1983.

It was one of the Indigenous Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) missiles. Since 1995, five variants of the Agni missile family have been deployed and can be carried on road and rail mobile launchers. Key breakthroughs made in the programme include an all-carbon composite heat shield to deal with the temperatures of re-entry, solid rocket fuel, manoeuvrable thrusters as well as a guidance system.

Param A home-made, super supercomputer (1991)

The PARAM supercomputer began its life as a result of a technology embargo that had been placed on India. In 1987, during a high-technology meet between India and the US, the then US president Ronald Reagan refused to sell to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi the latest CRAY supercomputers being developed in America.

Instead, the Indian premier was offered an outdated machine, and also warned against its use for any purposes other than weather forecasting. This was not without good reason-supercomputers are an essential step toward modern weapons systems. For example, the calculations required to construct an intercontinental ballistic missile cannot be performed on an ordinary computer; it would take far too long. 

In 1988, for the purposes of developing self-sufficiency in such matters, India established the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, or C-DAC. With a deadline of three years, and a budget of around Rs 30 crore, PARAM 8000 was born in 1991.

Pokhran-II: Building up a nuclear muscle

On May 13, 1998, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced India's new status as the world's sixth nuclear weapons armed power. Two days before the prime minister's announcement, on May 11, 'Operation Shakti' had been initiated. India had stunned-and somewhat alarmed-the world community with a series of five nuclear weapons tests. The weapons were of three different kinds-one fusion or thermonuclear weapon, two fission devices and two sub-kiloton devices-which indicated the flexibility and range of India's nuclear arsenal, slowly built up over the years. Pokhran-II was the first Indian test of a nuclear weapon since 1974. Post-1974, bomb technology had been placed on the backburner, until Pakistan came close to acquiring a nuclear weapon with Chinese assistance. Faced with the twin threats of a Chinese and Pakistani nuclear weapons arsenal and a closing global window-the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was opened for signatures in 1996-the strategic community was left with no other option but to hit the test button.

2008 Chandrayaan-1

India's space programme came of age in 2008, with the first unmanned space mission, Chandrayaan-1, reaching the moon. It included a lunar orbiter and an impactor, and was launched by a modified version of the PSLV.

The goals of the mission included high-resolution mapping of the moon in visible, near infrared, low energy X-ray and high-energy X-ray spectra, and the preparation of a three-dimensional atlas of regions of scientific interest. This mission gave momentum to plans for a modified GSLV for India's proposed manned mission.

2009 INS Arihant

In 2009, India formally launched its first indigenously designed and constructed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the INS Arihant, the culmination of a project that began in the 1960s. The INS Arihant's nuclear reactor, developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, gives it almost indefinite underwater endurance. Its four indigenously 'K-4' nuclear-tipped submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) have a range of over 3,000 km making it the third and most lethal leg of the triad declared in India's nuclear doctrine of 2003.

2014 GSLV-D5

It took exactly 25 years for India, after developing a rocket that could lob a satellite successfully into orbit, to develop an indigenous cryogenic engine. In 2014 the GSLV-D 5 rocket, which launched the GSAT-14 communications satellite, was powered for the first time by an Indian-made liquid fuelled cryogenic engine. It is a rocket engine that uses a cryogenic, or super-cooled, fuel or oxidiser, which are gases liquefied and stored at very low temperatures. These are super-cooled, comparatively lighter engines than those which use solid fuel propellant, allowing heavier payloads to be delivered into high geostationary orbits or farther into space. In fact, engines such as these were one of the main factors in NASA's success in reaching moon on the Saturn V rocket. When it comes to India, ISRO scientists and engineers, after beginning work at the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu, spent more than two decades developing cryogenic engineering technology.

2016 LIGO-INDIA

To foster cutting-edge research, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in India (LIGO-India) project is setting up a state-of-the-art gravitational wave observatory in collaboration with the LIGO Laboratory in the US, run by Caltech and MIT. The Department of Atomic Energy has identified Aundha, in Hingoli district of Maharasthra, as the preferred site. Topographical, seismological and geotechnical assessments are vital, as the location must be one of low seismic disturbance.

Almost 100 years after Albert Einstein first predicted them, researchers detected gravitational waves-ripples in the fabric of space-time that had radiated out from the merging of two black holes. While this confirms Einstein's general theory of relativity, it also provided evidence that the theory breaks down at the 'event horizon' of black holes. The first research operations will begin only in 2024, for which the DAE and Department of Science and Technology have reached an agreement with the US's National Science Foundation.

India's Achievements in Technology in the last two decades

2001 

The HAL Tejas, India's single-engine, fourth-generation, multirole light fighter, takes its first flight.

2004

EVMs become the standard for voting across the country, reducing both the time taken to vote and declare results.

2006

BrahMos enters into service in the Indian Navy. It is the world's fastest anti-ship cruise missile in operation.

2008

Chandrayaan-1, India’s first unmanned space mission to the moon.

2009

India becomes one of five nations in the world to launch a nuclear submarine named INS Arihant.

2013

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was successfully launched in 2013, making India the first Asian nation to reach Martian orbit and the first nation in the world to do so on its maiden attempt.

2014

The GSLV-D 5 rocket was powered for the first time by an Indian-made liquid-fueled cryogenic engine. ISRO scientists and engineers spent over two decades developing cryogenic engineering technology.

2017

PSLV-C37 was launched from the First Launch Pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in 2017. At the time, the rocket carried a record-breaking total of 104 satellites.

2018

ISRO made a path-breaking discovery, inventing the atomic clock. The clock is useful in navigating satellites and measuring the precise location data.

2020

India’s first Hydrogen Fuel Cell (HFC) prototype vehicle undergoes successful trials. The vehicle was developed by The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and KPIT, a Pune-based multinational corporation.

Every year on May 11, India celebrates National Technology Day.

On this day in 1998, India carried out three successful nuclear tests at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range, located in Rajasthan. The tests, codenamed ‘Operation Shakti’, were conducted on May 11 in 1998 were led by the late President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. It was followed up by two more nuclear tests that were carried out on May 13, 1998. At the time, India became the sixth country in the world to join the elite nations of the world to have nuclear weapons. The first National Technology Day was celebrated a year after on May 11, 1999, to commemorate the achievement.