Science policy: Good intention, but work ahead

Semi Column

Not every attempt, however serious it may be, can result in a success. But that cannot be a reason not to make the attempt or to help someone in making that attempt. Not that the science and technology establishment in the government did not realise this earlier, but it is only now that it has decided to take the risks and back those who need help in taking these risks. The decision to establish a 'Risky Idea Fund' and promote a mechanism like 'Small Idea Small Money' are healthy and refreshing initiatives outlined in the new science policy Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy unveiled by the government last week.

Policy documents are never short on pious declarations or new ideas. It is their translation into action that is generally lacking. Still the STI policy is promising because it takes a new leap of faith. Apart from the near-complete emphasis on promoting innovation especially innovation that will lead to making life easier for the disadvantaged and disabled the policy realises new ground realities and indicates that the government is ready to grapple with them.

Treating research and development activity in the private sector at par with public institutions as far as availing of public funds is concerned is again an idea that shows a change in mindset. And here the intent is not to fund big companies and organisations but the little start-ups or individuals who require small seed money to try to translate their innovative ideas into successful business. The fabled stories of garage-stores growing into awe-inspiring MNCs might still be some distance away from being replicated, but at least the government would not be faulted for not trying.

By announcing its intent, the government has completed the easier part. The more difficult part would be to fulfil the promises made in the policy document. As some scientists point out, a change in mindset need not wait for a policy to be unveiled. The painstakingly compiled database of grassroots innovations at the National Innovation Foundation or the database of traditional knowledge, both efforts of government agencies themselves, have thousands of ideas that have the potential of commercial success, if only some support is provided. An overwhelming number of them are innovations which are also socially "inclusive", a stated objective of the policy. The waiting game should be over.

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