Page 27 - April 2021
P. 27

         SCIENCE DIPLOMACY
Time to Redefine Strategic S&T Sectors
The tremendous global churn of S&T calls for reorientation of our science ministries to help India reap dividends like the US and China
   n Dr Chaitanya Giri
Many in India’s technocratic circles, including those in the government, often deem the science and technology (S&T) activities occurring in the Department of Space (DoS), Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), and Defence Research and Devel- opment Organization (DRDO) as ‘stra- tegic’. Whereas the S&T occurring via the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), Department of Science and Technology (DST) does not carry such an epithet hence are often as- sumed as ‘non-strategic’.
There is no doubt that DoS, DAE, and DRDO are strategic bodies. They birth a vast array of dual-use S&T with
an intimate connection to national se- curity and long-range national interests. But there exists no clear definition of a ‘strategic sector’ in any of the govern- mental policies or doctrine. Addition- ally, by not classifying other categories as ‘strategic’, an unintentional message goes out that these are ‘non-strategic’ and hence non-urgent domains. This un- intended supposition needs revisiting, particularly when the presumably non- strategic DST and MoES are embarking on crucial and dual-use next-generation technology missions.
The 2020-21 Union Budget made allocations for two new S&T missions, the National Mission on Quantum Tech- nologies & Applications (NM-QTA) and the National Mission on Interdisciplin- ary Cyber-Physical Systems (NM-ICPS). With the DST at the helm of these two missions, the Ministry of Finance al- located Rs 8,000 crores for NM-QTA and Rs 3,660 crores for NM-ICPS over five years. During the 2021-22 Union Budget, which came in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Min-
istry of Earth Sciences was assigned as the implementing agency for the Deep Ocean Mission and was allocated Rs 4,000 crores for five years. These are perhaps among the largest-ever single mission allocations that have gone to the so-assumed non-strategic ministries.
The times upon us do not permit viewing the domains attended by the NM-QTA, NM-ICPS, or Deep Ocean Mission from a narrow scientific but comprehensive geo- and techno-political prism. In that case, these missions are no less impactful than their space, atomic energy, and defence counterparts.
The Deep Ocean Mission aspires to construct remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROUVs) and crewed deep sub- mergence vehicles (DSVs) indigenously to dive below 6,000 meters from sea level. China is reaping dividends from its ROUVs and DSVs that dive into the In- do-Pacific waters. Today, Chinese ROU- Vs and DSVs lay submarine optic-fibre cables, map exclusive economic zones of other nations, identify lucrative fishing zones, prospect natural resources, and
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