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Keynote Address by the Ambassador at the Pan IIT 2011 Global Conference on Creating Global Common Goods-Role of evolving India-US Science & Technology eco-system

New York

It is indeed a privilege and honour to address the very distinguished gathering at the PanIIT Global Conference this morning. This is a special day – it is Gandhi Jayanti today. I attended a wonderful function this morning at the Union Square where we paid our floral tributes to the Father of Nation. People gathered at the Union Square in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statute sang Bhajans. I am very charged with that experience and happy to be here today.  

While establishing IITs, its founders were clear in their objectives. Their goal was not only to produce the country’s best engineers and scientists but also to produce leaders and trendsetters who would contribute in building a modern India. IITs and IITians have lived up to the expectations of their founding fathers. Today, IITians are playing a pivotal role in the socio-economic transformation of India into a knowledge based economy.  They are also making their mark on the global landscape. While introducing one of the IITs, Lesley Stahl, co-anchor on CBS 60 Minutes had observed and I quote,

"Put Harvard, MIT and Princeton together, and you begin to get an idea of the status of this school in India." 

In the Indian Foreign Service, we have a number of IITians who are adding value to the practice of diplomacy. Last week, President Obama named twelve eminent researchers and innovators as recipients of the National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology and Innovation - the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors.  We feel proud that three of them are of Indian origin and out of them two are IITians. IIT as an institution has always played a vital role in evolving and strengthening the Indo-US relationship.

The theme of the PanIIT Conference this year is particularly apt “Solutions for a better world”. In my remarks, I would like to focus on how India-US science, technology and innovation partnership could play a defining role in India’s development journey and in creating common public goods.

Scientific and technological collaborations between India and US expanded rapidly in 1970s and 1980s through setting up of Joint S&T Sub-Commission and Science & Technology Initiative.  The high level support for the initiative attracted some of the best scientific and engineering minds in both countries.  These initiatives resulted in a flurry of activities aimed at enhancing bilateral research and scientific linkages over the next three decades.

With the signing of an Inter-Governmental Agreement for Cooperation in Science and Technology between India and US in 2005, the scientific cooperation between the two countries has taken a new dimension with priority given to collaborations that can advance common goals in science and engineering research and education, support partnerships between public and private research institutions and industry, and promote science-based decision-making, environmental and biodiversity protection, safe drinking water, clean energy, space sciences, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other infectious and chronic disease research. 

Through our bilateral Science and Technology Endowment Fund of US $ 30 million, we hope to tap into our respective scientific and technological strengths and encourage promising and innovative ideas, joint R&D, that could produce material benefits for both countries and support the vibrant entrepreneurial spirit of both our people.  Shortly, we are going to support projects through this fund in two priority areas namely, ‘Healthy Individual’ and ‘Empowering Citizens.

Our S&T cooperation is a constantly upward moving curve. Today, our scientists are trying to invent new vaccines for Polio, TB, Rota virus; find solution for HIV/AIDS; inventing new materials; trying to improve crop productivity. Let us not forget that more than 70 % of our people live in rural areas. While giving Harish C. Mahindra Lecture at the South Asia Initiative at the Harvard University, former President of Indian Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam spoke about the need for development of rural areas in India through physical, electronic and knowledge connectivity. 

We partnered to explore water at the moon recently. We have been focusing on Information Technology, Nano-Technology, Biotechnology, Defense Technology and Cyber Security. In a recent project, an American scientist from Feinstein Medical Institute studied the linkage of malnutrition with type II diabetes in collaboration with Christian Medical College, Vellore. The positive outcome of the study got support from the World Health Organization to extend it to Nepal.

One of the distinguished IITians Mr. Nandan Nilekani is steering the unique identification number project, called Aadhaar, which is likely to change the face of our country. You may have read an article on the Aadhaar project in New Yorker.    

Health and pharmaceuticals has emerged as an important sector where we can foster even greater collaboration between firms from both sides. Generic drugs have a 75 % participation in the US prescription market where Indian companies like Dr Reddys, Aurobindo, Zydus, Cadilla, Sun and others have a 30-40 % market share. Increasingly, Indian biotech and pharmaceutical companies are being viewed as strong development partners for the US firms. Take the example of the development of Fidoxamycin for C-dificile, a life threatening hospital derived infection in which Optima BioPharma, a San Diego based biotech company entered into a co-development partnership with India’s Biocon. A similar example is the development of the new Hepatitis C drug Telaprevir by Shasun. Merck, Eli Lilly and Vertex Pharma have entered into a number of co-development arrangements with companies like Jubilant and Advinis for novel drug development. We need many more such partnerships.

We are conscious that a crucial input to achieve the ambitious growth targets that we have set for our economy would be energy. And increasingly it will have to come from clean sources. We are working together across a full portfolio of clean energy options. The hallmark of this cooperation is recently established Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, through which we are going to support research projects in consortia mode under PPP model of funding in the areas of Solar Energy; Second Generation Biofuels; and Energy Efficiency of Buildings.

In the area of atmospheric science, our scientists have a vibrant cooperation and significant output of which is the establishment of a ‘Monsoon Desk’ in NOAA for enhancing monsoon forecasting. In the basic sciences, the recently constituted National Science and Engineering Research Board in India is collaborating at systemic level with its model organization i.e. U.S. National Science Foundation.

An important aspect of this S&T Cooperation is people to people relation and human capacity building.  People are at the heart of any relationship. Presence of nearly half a million IITians in key positions in various US Universities, companies and R&D Laboratories testify the value of Indo-US S&T Cooperation for global good creation. The IITians have created jobs and prosperity in this country and pioneered technologies like cellular communications and HDTV. Their contribution has even been recognized by the US congress through its House Resolution 227 in 2005. Besides their contribution in technology development and innovation, IITians have brought laughter in US household through the cartoon character ‘Dilbert’ by Scott Adams.  

India has declared the current decade as the “Decade of Innovation”. For ensuring inclusive growth, it is imperative that we find technical and scientific solutions to the complex problems that confront our society. As Professor Jagdish Bhagwati noted in a recent lecture in New Delhi, and I quote, “Science is integral to our assault on poverty and other ills in our society”. Unquote. We need it in every field of development, whether health, agriculture or communications. And as our first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru said and I quote, “Who indeed can afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid …the future belongs to science and those who make friends with science” unquote.

I believe India-US strategic partnership should be driven by a vibrant S&T eco-system, where through co-investment and co-innovation we address the priority needs of both the nations and generate global common goods.

The Indian government in recent years has attempted to pay special attention to the growth and development of our university and higher education system to provide high quality education and carry out research in frontier areas of science and technology. During the last three years, we have established eight new Indian Institutes of Technology and five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research. Our funding for basic research has expanded and R&D expenditures have risen to over 1 % of the GDP. This increased commitments show our determination to face the developmental challenges better through use of science, technology and innovation.

In order to achieve the target of 9% GDP growth, we recognize that we need to do more. We would need a breakthrough strategy for augmenting the human resources pool as well as wealth creation through R&D. In this endeavor, we need to leverage the experience of the US in bringing laboratory knowledge to the market and collaborate with US higher education institutions to ensure sustainable and inclusive development and a clean energy future; protecting the health of our  people; empowering our future generations and stimulating global economic revival. We must learn from the US experience of aligning the academic, research and industrial sectors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe this co-development of the vibrant S&T eco-system as the new foundation of the expanding Indo-US cooperation, which will create synergies between science and diplomacy to produce common global goods.

The WHEELS (Water, Health, Energy, Education, Lifestyle and Security) project conceived by the Pan IIT leadership in this country to initiate application of technology to find solutions to common problems facing our two countries is a laudable enterprise. I am very happy to see such a sense of purpose to serve both the motherland as also the country of your adoption. This is an excellent way to fulfill the dream of our previous generation as articulated by Pandit Nehru in his book –Discovery of India:

“Of our millions, how few get education at all…. If life opened its gates to them and offered them food and healthy conditions of living and education and opportunities of growth, how many among these millions would be eminent scientists, educationists, technicians, industrialists - helping to build a new India and a new world”.

Let me take a few moments to briefly touch upon our transformed relations with the US. Over the past ten years, the canvass of India-US partnership has widened immensely in its scope and content.  Indeed in India, we attach importance to our strategic partnership with the US both for advancing global peace, stability and progress as well as in the pursuit of achieving India’s national development goals. Our multi-faceted strategic partnership is based on our converging strategic and economic interests, the vibrant ties between our peoples and businesses and our shared values as democracies.

India’s sustained economic growth, our focus to make India a global innovation hub, and our ambitious plans for modernization of infrastructure requiring more than one trillion dollars in the next few years, development of new industrial clusters and townships offer new and exciting opportunities for the US businesses to partner with Indian stakeholders for mutually beneficial ties. The US businesses with their leadership role in technology, product development, research and innovation are already strong partners in India’s economic growth story. The Indian businesses are creating value, wealth and jobs in the US.

On 13 October, we would be having India-US Higher Education Summit co-chaired by the Human Resources Development Minister and the US Secretary of State. The Summit is going to focus on harnessing synergies in the education sector and will provide a unique platform for the academic community and officials from both our countries to share their experience and knowledge to chart a new road map for advancing our partnership in this important field.

Today, we are engaging with each other and cooperating on most major global issues of contemporary relevance. As President Obama put it, India-US partnership will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.

India is poised to play a leading role in shaping the 21st century as an era of peace, prosperity, innovation, growth and development. We look to the IITs and IITians to play a commensurate role in this endeavour as an innovator, business leader, entrepreneur, engineer or teacher. I am extremely optimistic that you will nurture and harness the India-US S&T ecosystem based on our mutual strengths and create global public goods.

I wish all the success to the Pan-IIT and IITians across the globe.

Thank you.