Policy Plunge

India’s Animal Spirit In Innovation Must Match Its Growth Ambition

As we observe National Science Day on February 28 with the theme of ‘Indigenous Technologies for Viksit Bharat’, it may be worthwhile to create a timeframe and a roadmap to help India make it to the top-10 list in the Global Innovation Index

Over the last few years, India has made noticeable progress in improving its standing in the Global Innovation Index (GII) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations self-funding agency which acts as the global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information, and cooperation.

India has also initiated multiple measures to strengthen the domestic innovation ecosystem as it speed dials growth to achieve its target of emerging as the world’s 3rd biggest economy and realise the long-cherished goal of becoming a developed nation.

From a rank of 81 on the GII scale in 2015 to 40 in 2023 , the establishment of the Anusandhan National Research Foundation (on the lines of the National Science Foundation of the United States), and, most recently, the announcement in the FY25 Interim Budget of a Rs 100,000 crore corpus for promoting research and innovation in “sunrise domains” portend well for India on its innovation growth journey.

India has already emerged as an excellent example of how digital public infrastructure can be effectively utilized to promote inclusion. The number of patent applications by Indians grew 31.6 per cent in 2022, thereby “extending an 11-year run of growth unmatched by any other country among the top 10 filers”.

Startup Ecosystem To Help Realise Innovation Goal

The emergence of a vibrant startup ecosystem in the country, with more than 100,000 recognised startups as of 2023, moreover, holds the promise of the innovation culture taking deeper roots here.

Despite all these positives, though, there is no getting away from the issues that must not be lost sight of regarding innovation for hastening the realisation of the Viksit Bharat goal.

Impressive as its performance has been on the GII parameter, India still has a long way to go before it can be considered an innovation icon even in an Asian context. And that, too, despite having one of the biggest numbers of scientific and technical manpower globally.

The difference between India and China alone is more than 20 places. The GII 2023 ranking had China in the 12th position and Hong Kong (China), separately at the 17th spot. Singapore and the Republic of Korea figured in the top-10 at numbers 5 and 10 respectively. Other Asian countries that were ahead of India in the GII 2023 list were Japan (13), the United Arab Emirates (32), and Malaysia (36).

Need To Create Home-Grown Champions

Even in the highly promising arena of artificial intelligence (AI) that holds the potential to provide a significant boost to global GDP growth, India is yet to produce home-grown champions who can redefine the AI landscape globally and, also, provide a major impetus to the country’s growth and development agenda.

Until now, there is no information in the public domain of any India-based locally owned companies that have reached a stage from where these can mount a serious challenge to the current big names in generative AI. Which is unfortunate considering that the size of the Indian tech industry is $245 billion, according to software industry body Nasscom .

According to a PwC study, AI can contribute an additional $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. The same study goes on to mention that the “greatest gains from AI will be in China (26 per cent boost to GDP in 2030) and North America (14.5 per cent boost), equivalent to a total of US $10.7 trillion and accounting for almost 70 per cent of the global economic impact”.

As we observe the 2024 edition of National Science Day on February 28 with its chosen theme of ‘Indigenous Technologies for Viksit Bharat’, it may, thus, be worthwhile if the occasion could mark the setting of a timeframe within which India should make it to the top-10 list in the GII, and, a roadmap is also laid out to get to that target.

Putting in place an ambitious GII agenda, with roles and responsibilities clearly defined for all important stakeholders, could usher in the urgency that is necessary to come up with revolutionary new ideas and concepts that could help shape a new India.

More Innovations Needed

Big ticket innovations from India, and that too in large numbers, is what we are expecting from our scientists, technical personnel, and founders of startups.

The innovations must be such that they can make a significant, manifest difference in the quality of life of India’s over 1.4 billion citizens who account for nearly 18 per cent of the global population.

Our brilliant people opting to play safe by coming up with marginal improvements of technological applications already introduced elsewhere would neither move the needle on the innovations front nor provide any significant momentum to national Missions like ‘Digital India’, ‘Make in India’ etc.

By extension, the play safe approach on innovations would also not prove of much help in fast-tracking the attainment of the developed nation tag.

India’s innovation spirit must clearly match its growth ambition.

(The author is a current affairs commentator. Views expressed are personal.)

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