[Editorial Analysis] Covid crisis shows India’s science capacity

Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level: Covid-19
Mains level: Role of Indian Science and Technology fraternity to combat COVID 19

Context:

• Right now, because there’s no cure or vaccine yet globally, the focus is on testing, tagging, tracking, significantly cutting down the transmission, planning for the post-lockdown scenarios, and managing the Covid-19 cases.

Role of science:

• In all of these, the role of science is paramount.
• Whether it is in the understanding of virus behavior, its impact on the human body, or its modes of transmission, it is a science that has given us the answers, enabling us to formulate meaningful strategies.
• Now, the next steps are to connect strongly globally to search for vaccines and drugs.
• Work on all of these fronts has begun actively in India with several labs, academia, startups, and companies working in tandem on hospital supplies, therapies, vaccines, and inexpensive, rapid diagnostics for large scale testing.

Do you think the Indian Science and Technology fraternity has responded well to Covid-19?

• Our scientific fraternity has responded well in the area of managing the infected people. Several new and inexpensive designs of ventilators and other respiratory support systems have come up rapidly, some of which are designed for non-ICU use including home care.
• A plethora of effective PPEs, masks, sanitizers and novel disinfecting systems have been developed and begun to be manufactured at scale. The experimental trials for alternative therapies like convalescent plasma therapy in critical cases have begun.
• On another front inexpensive, fast and accurate methods of diagnosis, driven by cutting edge science, have evolved in India within the past month.
• These include detection systems and kits based on the nucleic acid, and antibody and antigen recognition. Research and Development labs, academia, and startups are providing an array of solutions, bringing to the fore the ability of our researchers and scientists to quickly respond to a crisis.

Does Indian science have answers to challenges faced, and the ability to handle crises?

• India has a very deep scientific knowledge base and infrastructure across the country in various institutions and Research and Development labs.
• We are number three in the world in a number of scientific and engineering publications, and also at number three in many cutting-edge fields like nanosciences and materials science.
• We shouldn’t underestimate the brilliance of our scientific human resources, who are among the best in the world. Given a challenge, we can rise to meet it. Some areas do need improvement.
• While our quantity of research is adequate, the quality of research can further improve by shifting from incremental research to research that is profound, disruptive were needed, cutting edge and relevant.

How does India compare with other countries? Poorly, in some aspects?

• We don’t compare poorly in research with other nations. We think the point you make is given all our strengths, why don’t we see enough technology solutions and commercial activity based on them on the scale seen in some other countries.
• The point we often miss is that two distinct systems need to seamlessly collaborate to make this possible – systems that generate knowledge (academia, Research and Development Labs) and systems that consume knowledge (industry, startups …).
• The knowledge generated needs a push, which combined with an equally effective pull of the knowledge consuming system, allows societal and commercial translation of knowledge.
• The pull factor becomes stronger in a knowledge-based economy that aspires to be globally competitive. It is in this push-pull connect and the strength of pull that we have been historically weak.
• Covid-19 has helped us see these forces at work very clearly.
• If there are a clear and present challenge and a clear resulting opportunity, then our knowledge ecosystem can work holistically from research to development to translation to prototyping to scale up to commercialization.
• Then, both the goddess of wealth, Laxmi and the goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, see the value of mutual collaboration for the fulfillment of each.

What should be the roles of private industry and government?

• As in many knowledge-based economies, industries should create a strong pull factor for knowledge, for example, by attracting the bright young minds and creating a knowledge-based culture which can interface strongly with academia, labs, and startups to translate research into scalable technological solutions.
• Government through its policies and direct support, creates an enabling environment for Research and Development, innovation, and its connections to industry.
• Our education and academic research should also bring the elements of innovation, relevance, and critical independent thinking to produce the best of scientists.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the covidwarriors, consider the following statements:
1. Union Health Ministry has recently created an online data pool on www.covidwarriors.gov.in of health care professionals, volunteers from National Yuva Kendras, NCC, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana and ex-Servicemen for use by the ground level administration at state, district or municipal levels.
2. The dashboard is available for use by various authorities to prepare Crisis Management and Contingency Plans based on the available manpower, in coordination with nodal officers for each group.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Does Indian science have answers to challenges faced, and the ability to handle crises? How does India compare with other countries? Poorly, in some aspects?

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