Ajith Vijay Kumar
60 years, yes it’s been 60 years since “that” midnight seasoned with aspirations of a million people. India and Indians have come a long way; gone are the days when India was totally depended on the western world for all that’s “cutting-edge”. Today, India is a proud member of the science & technology high table.
India’s commitment to the use of science & technology as a key instrument in national development has been clearly articulated time and again in various policy documents right from the early years of independence.
And indeed, the progress made by our country since then in attainment of the stated goals in policy and plan documents has been substantial.
In the past five decades 200 universities affiliating around 3000 colleges have been established to serve as an incubation ground for producing lakhs of technically qualified professionals.
India today is acknowledged as the third largest storehouse in the world for technically qualified workforce.
The pioneering Indian spirit has manifested itself in many fields; many frontiers have been won over.
Agricultural Research and Development
There was a time when Indian policy makers were worried about ways to feed the ever growing population. Limited forex reserves meant importing food was never a feasible idea, the other option was to bring more area under cultivation and that would have meant cutting the forests.
The solution was “Green Revolution” aimed at increasing the yield per hectare of land by using hybrid, high-yielding varieties of seeds.
Under a man; a visionary whose dream was to rid the world of hunger and poverty, the great Dr M S Swaminathan, better known as the "Father of the Green Revolution”; India developed into a country that fed itself.
Under the aegis of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, more than 2300 high yielding, hybrid varieties of food grains and cash crops have been developed. The achievements have been substantial by all means:
The Indian National Gene Bank established by the ICAR as a part of the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, has preserved more than 1, 50,000 accessions and samples. The capacity of this gene bank has been increased to about 1 million making it the largest gene bank of the world. It has more than 7100 accessions of underutilized crops.
World’s first hybrid cotton, pearl millet, the first hybrid sorghum, the first hybrid castor, the first hybrid mango are some of the amazing achievements of Indian agricultural research.
After China, India is only the second country in the world to develop its very own hybrid rice.
The first amber coloured commercial Triticale dwarf and very high-yielding wheat varieties were developed by ICAR, thereby providing sustenance to millions of hungry Indians without actually cutting into the forest cover or being depended on imports.
Besides the green revolution, the yellow revolution in oil seeds, white revolution in milk production, blue revolution in fish production and golden revolution in horticulture bear ample testimony to the contribution of our agricultural scientists in making our country self sustained in terms of food production.
The Bhakra Nangal dam in itself stands as a proud testimony to the technical prowess of Indian engineers. For all those NRIs who love to gawk at America’s Hoover dam, it would come as a surprise that the Bhakra at 741 feet is one of the highest gravity dams (compare Hoover Dam at 732 ft). The dam provides irrigation to 10 million acres, thus playing a pivotal role in making the green revolution a true success.
Defence Research and Development
By far the most remarkable achievement of India in the S&T sphere is the triumph over innumerable international sanctions to develop indigenous defence infrastructure. The bigger the challenge, the more determined Indian scientist became.
The GTX-35VS Kaveri is a low-bypass-ratio afterburning turbofan developed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), a lab under DRDO. Kaveri engine is an indigenous Indian design intended to power production models of the HAL’s Tejas fighter, also known as “Light Combat Aircraft" (LCA) as well as the proposed twin-engine Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA). Further evolution of the Kaveri design is envisioned for armored fighting vehicles and for ship propulsion.
The Kaveri engine has been specifically designed for the demanding Indian operating environment, which ranges from hot desert to the highest mountain range in the world.
With its development India no longer has to go around the world begging for engines to power its indigenous fighter planes and launch vehicles.
Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is India’s answer to the F-16s, understanding the pressing need to be self reliant in defence it was developed indigenously by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
HAL’s Tejas is an advanced, lightweight, supersonic multi-role fighter aircraft. Its tailless compound delta wing design powered by a single engine makes it ones of the best multi role aircraft around.
DRDO, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Indian Navy have developed a range of Sonars for the Navy`s frontline combat ships. These include the APSOH (Advanced Panoramic Sonar Hull mounted), HUMVAD (Hull Mounted Variable Depth sonar) and the HUMSA (Hull Mounted Sonar Array), Panchendriya Submarine sonar and fire control system, sonobuoy Tadpole, Simhika.
Sonars may be considered one of DRDO`s most successful achievements, years of toil has now assured that today, the Indian Navy`s most powerful ships rely on Indian made sonars.
DRDO is currently developing multiple Torpedoes. These include a lightweight torpedo (Advanced Experimental Torpedo). Apart from it DRDO is also developing heavy weight wire-guided torpedo Varunastra and Thakshak thermal torpedo suitable for use against both ships and submarines.
Prithvi Short Range Ballistic Missile: Three variants exist- the Prithvi I, II and III. Another submarine launched variant known as the K-15 is under development. The Prithvi is an exceptionally precise liquid fuelled missile with a range of up to 350 km. While relatively inexpensive and accurate, with a good payload, its logistics footprint is high, on account of it being liquid fuelled.
It is indeed one of the best ballistic missile in the world in its class.
Agni Missile series: The Agni-II is an Intermediate range ballistic missile with a range of up to 2500 km. The Agni-I is a shorter ranged unit with a range of up to 800 km. The Agni-III is meant for a longer ranged deterrence capability with a range of up to 6000 km.
The Akash, a medium range SAM (surface to air missile) system comprising the command guided Akash missile and its specific launchers.
India’s defence research programme is very symbolic in nature; it has showed to the world that even after being a late starter in the sphere of defence technology, India has developed on its own developed a credible defence arsenal.
As a result, India no longer has to go around the world begging for high-tech defence equipment to safe guard its frontiers.
Since its advent, a significant feature of the Indian space programme has been the underlying emphasis on reaping its benefits in the shortest possible time. To achieve this objective simultaneous R&D was initiated in all the three spheres of space technology namely rocket, satellite and space infrastructure development.
Indian Satellite Systems
Indian Remote Sensing: The IRS system is by far the world’s biggest constellation of remote sensing satellites. These satellites provide data for applications in agriculture, forestry, water harnessing, land use and land cover mapping, fold mapping and ocean resources survey.
INSAT: The Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system is a shining example of what all has been achieved by India’s space technology. The INSAT series is the largest domestic communication system in the Asia-Pacific Region. Active satellites of this series include INSAT-2E, INSAT-3A, INSAT-3B, INSAT-3C, INSAT-3E, KALPANA-1 (METSAT), GSAT-2, EDUSAT (GSAT-3) and INSAT-4A. INSAT satellites provide transponders (about 150) in various bands (C, S, Extended C and Ku) to serve the television and communication needs of India.
The development of the INSAT system was a milestone by all means; it gave India the prowess to stand on its own for all critical functions.
INSAT & development of India’s intellectual capital
A land mark achievement of the INSAT series has been its role in helping unleash the power of distance learning. Never before had it happened that professors from India’s premier educational institutes were accessible to students even in the remotest part of India. ISRO in association with UGC and Doordarshan through interactive shows like Gyan Vani brought about a silent revolution in the field of education.
Innumerable students from all parts of the country benefited from ISRO’s novel methods, thereby immensely adding to India’s intellectual capital.
Launch Vehicles: The Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) was a project started in the early 1970s by ISRO to develop the technology needed to launch satellites. The project leader was Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. The first launch of the SLV took place in Sriharikota on 10 August 1979.
With its launch India joined the elite club of countries with such capabilities. Over the years the technological capabilities of India in this sphere have increased many folds; the SLV was followed by the ASLV (Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle), the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) and the latest of them all, the state-of-the-art GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).
The progress India has made in the field of space technology is incredible in all sense and can be best described in the words of present ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair. The year was 1963; Madhavan Nair was in his final year at Thiruvanathapuram Engineering College, on the last day of his final year papers Madhavan Nair woke up early to make final preparations, to study alone he went to the hostel terrace.
Standing there he was witness to a very peculiar site, he saw a man cycling down the road towards Thumba with “something” resembling like a rocket on his cycle carrier. Closely following him, in fact, running behind the cycle was another young man. He was certainly intrigued but didn’t knew he was about to witness history. The man cycling with the “rocket” was none other than the father of Indian space research Dr Vikram Sarabhai and the man following him on foot was Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. They were on their way to Thumba to fire India’s first sounding rocket Nicke Apache. After sometime Madhavan Nair witnessed a rocket rise on the western horizon. He had by chance become witness to ISRO’s first space flight, an organisation he was destined to head one day.
Today India is one of the leading nations in the field of space technology. From launch vehicle technologies to satellite design, fabrication to its application in diverse areas like communication, broadcasting, meteorology, disaster management, telemedicine etc. Indian scientists have successfully developed and demonstrated it all.
Not amongst those who rest on their past laurels, Indian space scientists have charted out ambitious plans to take Indian space programme to the next level.
India’s first ever lunar orbital mission “Chandrayan” is scheduled for mid-08 lift-off. ISRO Chairman aims to put an Indian in space by 2015 and send an unmanned mission to Mars in the near future. And, with the successful testing of indigenously built Cryogenic engine, ISRO is confident of meeting its policy targets and take India one notch up on the global space arena.
PARAM is the series of supercomputers developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). The development of the same was taken up as a challenge to break the hegemony of the western world when it came to super-fast computing. The western world was reluctant to part with any of their technology as they feared India would use it for its space programme.
Indian scientists under Dr Bhatkar developed something that was thought to be impossible until now. He functioned as the architect of PARAM Supercomputers, GIST multilingual technology and Education-To-Home (ETH) mission.
Technologies that had far reaching impact on India’s emergence as a pioneer in super-fast computing.
The latest machine in the series is the PARAM Padma, which reached No. 171 on the TOP500 in 2003. Others include PARAM 10000 and PARAM 9000/SS. The PARAM 10000 was India`s first TFLOPS computer. C-DAC has also developed a high performance System Area Network called the PARAMNet-II having transfer speeds of up to 2.5 Gbit/s.
The major applications of PARAM 10000 are in weather forecasting, remote sensing, drug design and molecular modelling. PARAMs have also helped in India`s space programme.
Despite achieving a lot in the last 50 years, what is of paramount importance in the present context of fast changing technological scenario is to keep the momentum going and further the efforts in science and technological R&D.
The main challenge is to keep pace with the technological changes so as to ensure that the S&T developments are used for socio-economic development and help India develop into a country that can stand tall even amongst the tallest of the all.