Dr Harsh Vardhan is by profession an accomplished doctor and one of the most popular politicians in Delhi. As the Minister for Science and Technology he has taken new initiatives which have paid. Madhurendra Sinha spoke to him on several issues related to his department. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
There have been talks of achievements in the field of Science and Technology but what is the most important of all?
It is very difficult to pinpoint one particular thing as the most important achievement because in Science there are so many things and so many accomplishments made in the last two years. I can talk about hundreds of them under my Ministry. I have four departments under the Ministry. If you are talking about the issues of farmers it is most important thing, others working in the field of fundamental science will tell that issues related to gravitational waves and coming up of Lego observatory is the most important, someone working in astronomy may say coming up of the 30-metre-long world’s biggest telescope with the cooperation of US, Canada, China and Japan is of interest to him or somebody may say that activation of 3.6-metre-long Devasthali optical telescope developed with the help of Belgium is the most important of all. For others who are into digital world computers or data analysis will say that for India biggest thing is establishing supercomputing mission are the most important. There are so many things happening at so many levels that it is difficult to tell about one. Our country has sent recently a reusable spacecraft and our scientists helped into that from outside which is also very important.
We are working with Ministry of Railways, HRD, Industry, Department of Telecom, IT and many more to give them latest of what we have got. We have been contributing to every department. We have huge ambitious programmes and helping them in clean energy, emission control technology, alternate fuels, solid waste management, converting waste in wealth or energy, in scientific techniques and processes. Talking about air pollution we have made electronic nose and tongue to check it. With the help of electronic nose we can detect air pollution or with the help of electronic tongue called Ksheer scanner we are able to detect adulteration in milk.
Previously drugs were very costly now we have done a lot to get cheap medicines. We have done tremendous things in medicine, for a diabetic CSIR and associated institutes have invented BGR 24, an Aryuvedic medicine with little cost. It is a boon. Now anti-diarrheal Rota Virus vaccine is available at $1per dose. We have made Krishi Shakti an indigenous tractor of 11.2 hp which costs only Rs 2 lakh. Our other big achievement is Drishti which is a system for IGI airport. It provides information to pilots on visibility for safe landing and take-off operations.
Now we have high risk and high gain programme. We have strong initiatives in this direction.
We are trying to woo young Indians from abroad to come back to India and do research work here. For them we have big scholarships and big laboratories. Many have returned and many more are to come. We call it brain-gain which is a reverse trend (from brain drain).
We are sending information through text messages to 11.5 million farmers. One million fishermen have been benefited by our efforts. We have been giving them information about safe fishing zones and fishing areas.
In agriculture our achievements are tremendous. We have developed Samba Mahsuri variety of rice which is resistant to diseases and requires less water. High Zinc rice is also developed and it will be available to farmers in two years time. We have developed Ashwagandha variety of rice for arid and dry lands. With this one acre can give Rs 35-40 thousand income. We are working in the field of genetic disorders. In weather web cast we have done great things. There is aroma mission for farmers under which we are giving plants. This is part of our research in biotechnology.
India has grown quite strong in last few years but there is still need of modern technology which is eluding us. How can we improve the situation?
I think right now most of things we are trying to produce indigenously are world class. We are not inferior to anyone or any country now. We are aiming to become world class. If you see our con-focal microscope it is of world class.
Under the make in India programme our scientists are doing fantastic work. Take for example Drishti which is a world class visibility measuring instrument for the airports. It has been produced by our scientists. Similarly our scientists have produced a gyrotron which is another equipment for nuclear fusion. This has very complex technology and very few countries have knowledge of that. We have lot of things in aviation technology which are of international standards.
Only recently I inaugurated an instrument in Kashipur which if you put on ten tons of biomass, within 24 hours you will get 300 litres of Ethanol. Only four to five commercial plants of this types are in the world. We are not lagging behind anyone.
In terms of technology we are not lagging behind. We have developed a 30 meters telescope with the help of a four advanced countries. We have provided most of the hardware. If we have been lagging behind, how could we produce such things?
Your department has taken many initiatives regarding involving more and more women in technology. Is there any improvement?
Obviously we have done a lot. We have encouraged hundreds of women scientists. There are better facilities and opportunities for women. Our Ministry is actively involved in 1,000 start ups. We have a very planned and focused approach towards them. Our ministry has started KIRAN programme to bring gender parity in science through nurturing the research career of women scientists. Around 650 women in Science and Technology have been supported in the past. So far 19 women Technology Parks are fully functional benefiting about 20,000 women.
How is your Ministry supporting start ups and make in India programme?
The Ministry which is vigorously supporting the start up is our Ministry. We have been actively associated with many of them. We have supported hundreds of start ups. Any youngman or woman who has bright or innovative idea is welcome with us. We go to the schools-colleges and organise camps. We pick up boys and girls who have innovative mind. We support them. Our department is proactively involved in all this.
What about R& D expenditure?
Our budget has not been slashed and we are encouraging all sorts of R&D. All kinds of research work are being done by our ministry. There is no dearth of money. We have developed many machines and such things. I feel there is a need to involve corporate sector for the research works. It will help both and save valuable time. It will benefit both. CSIR has done wonderful work in this area.
Earth Science department has improved tremendously and forecasts about weather are almost accurate. How this happened and what else can we expect?
Our Earth Science and Ocean Science department is virtually one of the best in the world. We are not inferior to anyone in the world. Our forecast on Monsoon has proved to be accurate. We are supplying information to many countries in South and South East Asia. We have launched national Monsoon mission programme for which we have added high calibre computers. Through this we will give daily, weekly and monthly information. We will start giving every kind of information on weather in every area of the country from next year.
The information we are giving to farmers is very valuable. Under Monsoon mission programme we want to give information even upto the block level. Farmers want accurate information of weather for their crops. We are already in the process of giving all sorts of information. In a few years we will be able to give accurate information about the weather to everyone. Lot of work has been done in this area.