Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

From Chandrayaan-3 to Samudrayaan: India’s Pivotal Shift Towards a Research and Innovation Driven Nation Under PM Modi’s Leadership

On 23rd August 2023, when Chandrayaan-3 successfully landed in the South Pole region of the moon, history was created in more than one way. That day is significant not just because India became the first country to have successfully landed in the Southern Pole region of the moon in its first attempt, but also because it vindicated what any organization can achieve when the top leadership of the nation puts all its weight behind it.

In the aftermath of 2019, when Chandrayaan-2 was barely at a striking distance from creating history, but missed out by a whisker, Prime Minister Narendra Modi not just consoled the ISRO team, but also assured full support of his Government for the next mission to moon. In barely four years’ time, ISRO went ahead with another mission, which was even more complex, and got success.

The enormity of the success should be understood from the perspective of what was at stake. For any mission like this, chances of it going awry at the last moment because of many extraneous factors, even beyond the control of ISRO team, in spite of best of preparations, can never be undermined. There was also the political credibility of top leadership at stake. Naysayers, cynics, detractors from domestic and foreign arena, would have spared no stone unturned to criticize and question the Prime Minister, had the mission gone wrong in some way or the other way. Yet, keeping in mind the necessity of going ahead with scientific endeavors, in spite of the inherent challenges and risks involved, Prime Minister Modi not only made sure that funds were no more a problem for ISRO, in its quest to acquire the best talents and equipment for its missions, but also brought a new vigor and zeal for the quest of knowledge, science, research and innovation in the country. The nation in unison was celebrating the feats of ISRO, after the success of Chandrayaan-3, and after a long time, quest for glory in the field of fundamental science was once again igniting young minds of the nation.

Interestingly, during the landing phase of Vikram, not only the Prime Minister remained connected to the ISRO team through video conferencing from South Africa, where he had gone for BRICS Summit, but also made sure that during his return, he went to meet and congratulate the ISRO officials, even before returning to Delhi.

PM Modi’s Pivotal Push for Innovation 

Herein, it is important to understand that for any nation, if it has to be among the top league of the world, in the realm of economic prowess or military might, then it has to have its own technological base and industrial proficiency. For long, because of various factors, India remained a service sector driven economy with more than 50% of its GDP emanating from that sector.

It was only in the recent past after Prime Minister Modi came to power that a concerted effort is now being made to enhance the share of manufacturing sector in the GDP matrix, through various measures including Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Schemes for various industrial sectors, rationalizing taxes, as also relaxing norms for contract manufacturing in India. Today, the wheel has started turning, and as India continues its journey to cross the $5 trillion economy mark in the next few years, it is for sure that the share of industry in the same would be proportionately much higher than what it was a decade back.

On the issue of having, one’s own technological base, reality is that for long, India has been a net importer of technology, with less than proportionate application of funds, both from the state and private sector for development of indigenous technologies. One cannot deny though that some organisations in some specific fields did indeed strive hard to build indigenous capabilities, especially in areas where India faced a reign of technology denial from the West. However, the harsh reality remains that for long, India had lacked the strategic intent in the realm of technology development or building on domestic industrial proficiency to pioneer new innovations. Over the last 8-9 years, PM Modi’s push for Atmanirbharta is changing much of that.

PM Modi Prioritized Strategy Driven Research on a Mission Mode

In areas of defense for example, barring the development of ballistic missiles, in a wider spectrum, it is an unfortunate saga that India for decades remained dependent on imports even as successive governments in the past restricted entry of India’s private sector into the sphere of defense technology development and equipment production. It took the emergence of Shri Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India to bring about some fundamental changes in the manner in which India perceived the importance of research and development.

In the first place, under the initiative of Prime Minister Modi, as part of the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ initiative, India came out with a negative list for defense equipment imports in four instalments over a period of two years that comprised an estimated 411 different categories of weapon systems, which would henceforth be made only in India, and mostly by Indian companies. Of these, a whopping 2700 items have already been indigenized by middle of 2022, while the rest is being done in phases. Today, India has a rapidly growing and a vibrant domestic defense industrial sector that is capable of producing most kinds of weapon systems on its own or through collaborations. From various kinds of drones, to bullet proof jackets, to artillery, combat vehicles and even rifles, are now being designed and manufactured in India. Interestingly, most are now being manufactured by companies which were hitherto denied access in this sector for decades in the past.

In the realm of space sector as well, as part of PM Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ initiatives, the space sector got liberalized as well, with the Indian private sector now being allowed to make their own satellites as well as launch them. As things stand today, not only ISRO is making giant strides in terms of its success with Chandrayaan-3 , Aditya-L1 launch or the innumerable satellite launches in which success of ISRO has been ‘normalized’, what is also interesting is that India’s space sector now has around 140 startups  working on different dimensions of space technology development, and it is only a matter of time when launch of small and medium range satellites in India would be done entirely by private sector, while ISRO would focus on deep space, or outer space exploration missions, much like future missions on moon or to other planets.

Interestingly, looking at the future horizon, as ISRO would strive over the next few decades to have more moon missions in its quest to explore for more mineral resources, and find ways to extract them or bring them back to earth, or even as it would also seek ways to transform the moon itself into a pitstop for launching outer space exploration missions, this itself would not only require potential harnessing of the strength of Indian industries, as a force multiplier, to pitch in with its resources for creating innovative and tailor made solutions for ISRO, but may also create a giant space for various kinds of startups to emerge.  They would create their own sphere of solution development, for say, future construction activities on moon that may require a completely different kind of materials for structural fabrications in the lunar environment where conventional materials in use on earth may not be effective. This is how an ISRO or the efforts of PM Modi led NDA Government is creating future space for startups and igniting young Indian minds to pursue their passion to develop not just research driven innovations but also viable business models out of them.

ISRO’s Success:  A Catalyst for Reorienting Indian Youth Towards Fundamental Research Again

Pic Source: The Week

In this realm, it is important to understand as to how much the success of Chandrayaan-3 or missions like Adtiya-L1 can play the role of catalyst to inspire a whole generation to not just pursue scientific research as a profession, but also dream of starting their own innovation based startups in India to fulfill their dreams, instead of relocating to Western Hemisphere for better opportunities. The Startup India initiative of Prime Minister Modi or the Technology Development Fund (TDF) Scheme of DRDO, as subset of the same, have been playing critical roles in nurturing a whole new generation of young enterprises in India.

For decades, interest in pursuing scientific research as a discourse had almost taken a backseat in India since most preferred to join the IT industry after their academic pursuits, as that sector was paying well, and jobs were in abundance, coupled with options to stay abroad for projects, to earn in dollars. Many others simply moved abroad in pursuit of research work as it was more remunerative there.  Even though there is nothing wrong in opting for IT industry and no one can ignore the enormous contribution of IT sector to Indian economy, nevertheless, it is imperative for any nation to see that at least a section of the country’s best minds pursuit scientific research work as a profession, and within the country. For that, events like Chandrayaan-3 coupled with policy push by Government in such sectors, play a very critical role in terms of attracting investments in research. This in turn attracts bright minds into it.

Herein it is important to mention as to how Modi Government massively enhanced the budget of ISRO over the last few years along with provision for supplementary funds to make sure that fund was no more a problem while developing equipment and scouting, followed by training, of best of the talents.

PM Modi’s Push for Making Innovation a Key Aspect of India’s Education System

While it is no doubt that India’s success in space sector is now an inspiring factor for the young generations of India, over the last few years, a sustained effort has been made by India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi to not just revamp its education structure through National Education Policy but also, an incredible amount of effort has been put by PM Modi to reprioritize research and innovation.

The Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), for example, has been initiated by Modi Government to revitalize and foster the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in India. Today there are 10,000 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) in which 75 lakh students are ‘actively engaged’ and 69 Atal Incubation Centre (AIC) that has supported more than 2900 startups. Further Atal Innovation Mission has engaged 6100 ‘Mentors of Change’ to guide students under Atal Tinkering Labs in the path of innovation. Additionally, there are 14 Atal Community Innovation Centers. These can be termed as building blocks to shape up the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators.

Objective of Atal Innovation Mission                                                           

Source: https://aim.gov.in/aic-overview.php

The National Deep Tech Startup Policy

Apart from the Startup India initiative, one major and critical initiative of PM Narendra Modi led NDA Government has been the creation of the National Deep Tech Startup Policy or NDTSP. The draft of the policy was released in July 2023.

The Executive Summary of NDTSP reads as follow:

The National Deep Tech Startup Policy serves as a comprehensive framework to address the challenges faced by deep tech startups and provide definitive policy interventions to enhance the ecosystem. India’s deep tech Vision encompasses four key pillars: securing India’s economic future, progressing towards a knowledge-driven economy, bolstering national capability and sovereignty through the Atmanirbhar Bharat imperative and encouraging ethical innovation. The policy recognizes the evolving nature of the definition for a deep tech startup, based on various attributes such as maturity levels, applicability to different sectors, time frames and geographical boundaries and contextual relevance. 

As per data from the website of the Principal Scientific Advisor to Government of India, India already has more than 10,000 recognized deep tech based startups. The fact that Modi Government is working on a specific policy to develop a specialized ecosystem to facilitate deep tech development in India, shows the enormous amount of important PM Modi gives to innovation and research as foundation for future growth of India.

The National Research Foundation  

Further, The Anusandhan National Research Foundation Bill 2023, introduced and passed in the Parliament in August 2023, creates for the first time a robust and forward looking apex body in India that would work on a mission mode to give strategic direction to research and innovation in the country in the following domains:

  1. Natural Sciences including Mathematics
  2. Engineering and Technology
  3. Environmental and Earth Sciences
  4. Health and Agriculture
  5. Scientific and Technological Interfaces of Humanities and Social sciences.

                                                                                   Source PRS Legislative Research 

On National Research Foundation or NRF, PRS Legislative Research states the following,

Key functions of NRF include: (i) preparing short-term, medium-term, and long-term roadmaps and formulating programs for research and development (R&D), (ii) facilitating and financing the growth of R&D and related infrastructure in universities, colleges, and research institutions, (iii) providing grants for research proposals, (iv) supporting translation of research into capital intensive technology, (v) encouraging international collaboration, (vi) encouraging investments in the Foundation by private and public sector entities, and (vii) undertaking annual survey of scientific research, outcomes, and spending.

Therefore, in the broader spectrum, if one looks at it, what Prime Minister Modi has been striving to create is a vibrant ecosystem for research, innovation and entrepreneurship in India, coupled with ensuring that all the policy lacunae that impeded Indian companies from gaining foothold in the global supply chain, are removed.

Innovation, Self-Sufficiency & Entrepreneurship: The Three Pillars of PM Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan

*Rs 20 Lakh Crore, roughly amounting to 10% of Indian GDP in 2019-2020

PM Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan is a pioneering initiative, a critical aspect of which has been to provide Indian entrepreneurs and industries the level playing field in various, hitherto restricted, domains such as defense production. It is path breaking and the results are there for everyone to witness how India is gradually evolving as a key player in domestic and global defense market. This, coupled with Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme, Start-Up India scheme, as well as Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Vishwakarma Yojana, are aimed at promoting innovation-based entrepreneurship throughout the entire spectrum of the economic strata and regions, be it city, towns, suburbs or rural India.

Eventually, India has to churn out job creators, instead of job seekers, in millions. For long, India lacked the ecosystem that could make India become a place for innovation. For long, India’s creative minds with ideas, but no capital of their own, had to exit the country for greener pastures, and support systems elsewhere, where they thrived and created wealth for their host country. The fault lied with India’s policymakers of the past.

But now, much of that is changing from the core. That India is now the fifth largest economy of the world, that India now has the industrial scale proficiency to manufacture vaccines in hundreds of crores  for her own requirement, and then send to other countries too, that India now has the third largest ecosystem for startups, that India could create 8 crore new entrepreneurs through Mudra Yojana, that India has been termed as ‘a bright spot on the   dark horizon’, that India is heavily investing on infrastructure now, that India is creating a new template of human centric development, that India has revolutionized digital payments as part of its rapidly evolving digital economy, and that India is focusing on innovation now, none of these are by fluke but outcome of meticulous planning and execution by Prime Minister Modi and his team. All these are building blocks in PM Modi’s quest to make India a developed country by 2047.

Putting Research on Next Generation Technologies as Foremost Priority 

Another critical aspect of PM Modi’s vision for a developed and research driven Indian economy, is how Modi Government has firmly focused on allocating money on development next generation technologies and industries. From a dedicated fund and strategic direction towards research on hydrogen as one of the next generation preferred fuel alternatives, through National Green Hydrogen Mission with an outlay of Rs 19,744 crore between FY23-24 to FY 2029-30, to National Quantum Mission for building a similar ecosystem to scale up industrial & scientific R&D in the country for making of quantum computers, to National Biopharma Mission to develop an ecosystem for enhancing India’s industrial scale capabilities to innovate and produce biopharmaceuticals, to Indian Semiconductor Mission for development of long-term strategy for creation of an industrial ecosystem for making semiconductors and display manufacturing facilities in India, in each of these cases, one witnesses a mission-mode approach by Modi Government that was hitherto lacking in many of the previous dispensations. Also, the approach herein primarily focuses on development of an ecosystem for entrepreneurs to thrive, either through their own endeavors or in collaboration with state entities. The objective is not to keep these as exclusivity of the state but to make the state act as a facilitator for these sectors to thrive.

Each of these dedicated missions to expand the horizon of research driven innovations and investments, not only have shown potential to harness interest of researchers into next generation technologies but also have acted as catalyst in making Indian industrial majors to commit large chunks of investments in domestic capacity building in such spheres that would eventually boost India’s overall capabilities.

India Semiconductor Mission

The Deep Ocean Mission: PM Modi’s Focus on Exploring the Last Frontier

While the success of Chandrayaan-3 and the on-going mission of Aditya-L1 towards the Lagrange point to study patterns of solar flares, continue to enthrall Indians of all age, next year, i.e., the year 2024 may witness India breaking another glass barrier, by being one of the first countries that would be venturing into research in deep oceans.

Source: PIB

The Samudrayaan Project is aimed at deep sea explorations of India’s continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The explorations would identify areas which has abundance of polymetallic nodules imbued with precious minerals such as nickel, cobalt, copper, iron hydroxide and manganese among others, which have diverse applications in manufacturing of all kinds of digital devices, batteries, solar panels and different kinds of electronic devices. Most of these explorations would be happening in the 75,000 sq km in the Central Indian Ocean Basin. Successful exploration and extraction of such critical minerals may have major positive impact in development of India’s Blue Economy and fundamentally alter the pace of India’s economic growth rate.

At the core of India’s Samudrayaan Project is the indigenously made submersible with ability to go to potential depth of up to 6000 meters. This is a pathbreaking and momentous development not only from the perspective of venturing into such deep levels for exploration of minerals, but also from the perspective of metallurgical marvel since at such depth of the ocean, the level of pressure of water is immensely high. As a reference point, one must understand that most of the combat submarines can go at most at depths of 300-500 meters. In certain respect, it is said that humans have more knowledge about the surface of moon than the sea beds. Mission Samudrayaan of India may contribute a lot to alter than notion.

Therefore in 2024, while the first uncrewed orbital test flight at Low Earth Orbit (LEO) would be conducted of Gaganyaan-1 by ISRO, the year would also witness the first sea trials at depth of around 500 meters, of Matsya 6000, India’s submersible for deep sea missions. From the perspectives of crossing major scientific milestones as well as inspiring a nation, on both counts, it is for sure that 2024 would be a logical and justified continuation of the scientific endeavors achieved in 2023.

Connecting Back to India’s Roots in Research and Innovation

As things stand, the last one decade has witnessed India under leadership of PM Modi, taking pioneering initiatives in the realm of spearheading technology missions with a strategic objective of making India self sufficient in various domains that can be termed as building the foundation of once again making India the cradle of research and innovations.

Since time immemorial, India’s sages were pioneers in seeking solutions to various challenges that humans were battling. Unfortunately, a thousand year of invasions, plunder, loot, colonization and enslavement destroyed most of that culture. Today, India stands at a critical inflexion point where it is at the cusp of a pivotal shift from being a net recipient of technology, to a net developer and provider of the same. It today has a strong economy, powerful military and deep-rooted cultural ethos, embedded with a powerful leadership, to revive that very culture of research, innovation, and development of solutions for greater good. Under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, the seeds have been sown for that renaissance. It is now the collective responsibility of all Nationalists to take it forward in attaining the common goals of Amritkaal.