Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on India’s 76th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Till today we always remember our revered Lal Bahadur Shastri ji for his inspirational clarion call of Jai Jawan Jai Kisan meaning ‘Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer’. Later Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji added a new link of Jai Vigyan which meant ‘hail science’ and we gave it utmost importance. But in this new phase Amrit Kaal now it is imperative to add ‘Jai Anusandhaan’ that is ‘hail innovation’.” Prime Minister Modi went on to say, “I repose my utmost faith in our youth of the nation. Witness the power of indigenous innovations. Today we have many success stories to show to the world – UPI-BHIM, our digital payment, our compelling position in the domain of Fintech. Today in the world, 40 percent of real time digital financial transactions are happening in my country. India has shown innovation prowess to the world.”
While this portion of Prime Minister’s speech underlined India’s giant strides in the field of science and technology, it also, in the same breath, announced an era of a new India on its path to becoming a leader in thought and action. Interestingly, by adding ‘Jai Anusandhaan’, Modi claimed the spirit of the Indian Constitution. Article 51(A) describes fundamental duties of every citizens of India. Of the 11 duties defined, the 8th pertains to “develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform.”
If there was any moment in Modi’s address that captured, in equal measures, his passion and commitment to progress and innovation it was when he said, “We have to become self-reliant in the energy sector. How long will we be dependent on others in the field of energy? We should be self-reliant in the fields of solar energy, wind energy, and various other renewable energy sources like Mission Hydrogen, bio fuel and electric vehicles.”
We live in an age of interconnected risks and vulnerabilities that can potentially disrupt and damage the vital systems on which societies and economies depend. The world has never been more uncertain and in the coming times will be considerably changed, but in ways not yet fully measured. In dealing with or in the management of such systemic risks the frontiers of scientific discoveries and technological innovation has to be continuously pushed. The linking of science, technology and innovation is not merely ‘curiosity-driven’ but ‘need-driven’. Prioritising innovation will be critical whether it is identifying new opportunities in times of crises or build-back-better in post-crisis situations. Creating favourable grounds for ideas and innovations to efficiently interact helps in achieving new cooperative approaches and potentially new systems.
Not one to shy away from value-creating solutions Prime Minister Modi on India’s 75th Independence Day launched the National Hydrogen Mission (NHM) with an aim to meet climate targets by producing 5 million tonnes of Green hydrogen by 2030 and bolster the development of renewable energy capacity, and as he optimistically expressed, “….a quantum leap to energy independence by 2047.”
While there is no specific legislation governing renewables in India, however, a green hydrogen policy was notified by the Ministry of Power in February 2022. The policy has a suitable mix of incentives to attract investors, for example “Allotting land in Renewable Energy Parks to manufacture green hydrogen/ green ammonia.” The policy effort is also to facilitate ease of business, for example “By proposing a single portal for all clearances related to the activities of the business”. Lastly, the policy encourages export. For example, “Manufacturers of Green Hydrogen / Green Ammonia shall be allowed to set up bunkers near Ports for storage of Green Ammonia for export / use by shipping. The land for the storage for this purpose shall be provided by the respective Port Authorities at applicable charges.”
Reducing carbon emissions has been a principal driver of the incumbent government, now in its ninth year, and to that effect hydrogen and ammonia are seen as future green fuels and a catalyst for India’s sustainable energy security. The objectives are resoundingly interconnected – to provide clean energy to the common people, to reduce dependence on fossil fuel and cut substantially crude oil imports. As India pivots towards renewables, the green hydrogen can provide significant value-creating opportunities and position India as an export hub for green fuels. Trading green hydrogen with fossil-fuel exporters like Australia and the Gulf states of Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who are looking to clean energy to diversify their economies, will add to the growing strategic partnership with these countries.
Having pledged to achieve 50 per cent of its installed electric capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030, Modi’s leadership is encouraging a “silent revolution” by laying emphasis on electric vehicles (EVs). In a recent event marking 40-years of Suzuki Motor Corporation in India, Modi said, “We are rapidly working on both supply and demand of EV ecosystem. From relaxation in tax to easier loan facility, we are working towards increasing the demand of EVs.” The Suzuki Motor Gujarat Electric Vehicle Battery Manufacturing Facility at Hansalpur is to be set up with an investment of Rs 7500 crore to manufacture Advance Chemistry Cell batteries for EVs. It is estimated that India will have a capacity to produce 10 lakh passenger vehicles/year.
The overall message is clear – India can aim to create an energy efficient ecosystem based on technology and innovation. India’s size (home to 17 per cent of world’s population) and its scope for growth means that its energy demand is expected to grow by more than that of any other country in the coming decades. With policies and targets in place much of this energy growth would be met with low-carbon energy sources. India’s stated clean energy achievements this decade, including installing 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity, reducing the emissions intensity of its economy by 45 per cent, and reducing a billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030 will help India achieve its net zero emissions by 2070.
It is not that India lacked scientific and innovation capacity in the past; what it lacked was the ability to prioritise at the policy planning and implementation levels. While it is always welcome to strike technological collaboration with different countries, it is equally crucial to strengthen national innovation. Adapting, identifying and re-evaluating technology and innovation, and ensuring higher budgetary resources are allocated will help India to remain both resilient and competitive in the changing landscape.
(The author works at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own.)