Dr. Debapriya Dutta, Scientist & Head of Equity, Empowerment & Development Division of Department of Science and Technology had a serious and detailed conversation with Alpana Saha and unveiled the work the Department is doing to provide scientific awareness and facilities to all section of the society.
Dr. Debapriya Dutta completed his Ph.D from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi and joined the National Agricultural Research Service of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). He served as Scientist in the Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, Dehradun. He joined the Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS) Division of the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India in 1994 as Senior Scientific Officer-I and was serving in the same Department as Scientist ‘F’ / Director, till May, 2008. Thereafter, he was appointed as the Counselor (Science and Technology) in the Embassy of India, Washington D.C. during 2008-2012. At this responsibility, he handled the India and US Science and Technology Cooperation at Policy, Projects and Programme levels in the sectors of health, energy, climate, environment and education. During September, 2012-2015, he assumed the responsibility of Director, Indo-French Centre for the Promotion of Advanced Research (IFCPAR), a bilateral organization to promote collaborative research between India and France in cutting edge Science and Technology. Currently, he is serving as Head and Adviser/Scientist ‘G’ in the Science for Equity Empowerment and Development (SEED) division of the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.
Dr. Debapriya Dutta was deputed to the Black land Soil and Water Research Institute, University of Texas, Texas, USA as UNDP visiting scientist during 1998. He completed his Post Doctoral Fellowship in Geo-information Management from the International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), the Netherlands in 2003-2004. He was awarded Senior Professional Research Fellowship on “Groundwater Governance” from International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka in 2006-2007.
His areas of expertise and research interests are application of Geo-informatics for Natural Resources Management (Focus on Land and Water), Watershed management technologies, Geo-information Management and Capacity Building for Local Level Planning and International S&T cooperation in the context of Sustainable Development Goals. He has number of publications in national and international journals and has authored three books.
How the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India connects Science to Society?
Dr Dutta: Science and technology has always been an important tool for the nation building in the country after our independence. The last science and technology policy emphasizes on the utilization of science and technology for the citizen’s benefits. In this context, the role of science and technology for the development of the community is three fold. First is to improve knowledge, second is to improve usage of the technology and third is the skill development. So, the higher-level technology or lower-level technology can be absorbed by the society in the livelihood context. In this way, livelihood of the society can be improved.
How livelihood of the society can be increased through technology implementation?
Dr Dutta: If we see livelihood of the society, there are two aspects to look at it. One aspect is social aspect and the other is economic aspect. If we look into the economic aspect, there are three main verticals of the society, first is formal sector. For India, the main sector is agriculture and nonfarm sector. In Indian social context, agriculture is the main engine, the extra or addition income/earning in agriculture sector goes into the development of both non-farm as well as farm/agrarian sector. The performances of these sectors improve the economic growth of the country. Such performance gives economic growth, which can be converted into social benefit/development and economic well being of the country.
Are there any schemes especially for disadvantaged section of the society?
Dr Dutta: There is no formal definition of disadvantaged section of the society. The definition of disadvantaged section of the society changes with the change in perception of the society and economic growth of the society. The people who post independence were considered disadvantaged are today no more considered as disadvantaged section of the society. The Department of Science and Technology has a much focused programme/scheme in the name of Science for Equity, Empowerment and Development, which when started was known as science and society programme. It focuses on the disadvantaged section; this is also known as beneficiary vertical focused program, which includes women, ST/SC community, and elderly. We have specific program, which are specifically focused towards these verticals. Most of these activities are focused towards farm as well as non-farm sector.
What is the role of voluntary organization in the development of the society?
Dr Dutta: If we see the development of the concept of governance. The government is no more the only party involved in the governance process. There are other partners in the process of governance they are civil society as well as the non-government organizations (NGOs) and the private partners. The NGOs represents the civil society. Usage of the science and technology for livelihood development and social development and taking this scientific knowledge to the society can be done by the NGOs. Generally the scientific institutions, which are mandated to develop scientific knowledge for the society, have poor connect to the society. These poor connect is due to the mandate of these institutions. On the contrary, the NGOs that have S&T capacity as well as have well defined connection with the society. Such NGOs with S&T capacity can bridge the gap between the knowledge, technology and skill, which can be transferred to the society for livelihood and economic development of the society.
How future technologies can contribute towards the development of the society?
Dr Dutta: As the technologies grow, the aspirations of the people of the country grow. As the economic and social growth takes places, it adds to the aspiration of the people. Presently we can say that the aspiration of Indian today is different from those who resided in the nation post Independence, i.e., during 1947 year. Aspiration of rural Indian today is different. Information & communication technology (ICT) has changed the thought process of people of the nation residing in any corner of the country. It has huge network. Rural youth has almost the same aspiration as the urban youth. When there is lack of opportunities to fulfill the aspiration of the people today. Here comes the role of future technologies to fulfill the aspiration of the people just by providing the required opportunities to them. Such future technologies can fill up the gap of lack of opportunities in the country. We can divide the new technologies into information technologies and non-information technologies. Information technology can play vital role in improving the core engine of the India’s economic growth, that is, in the condition of the farmers. The farm production, function of the farm, and the input can be improved. The input of the farm comes from various sections. As farmers it is very difficult for the farmers to integrate those inputs. Here comes the role of artificial intelligence (AI). AI and blockchain can help farmers to upgrade their product and get best inputs and get best market for selling their products. So, the farmers can be empowered in terms of their economic growth. The economic growth of any country is measured in terms of or on the basis of non-farm activities. As the income of the farmers improves their income is invested in non-farm activities. We need to identify best non-farm activities and farm activities like higher level of technologies needs to be improved. For this both nonfarm activities and farm activities needs to be made more attractive for the next generation. Farm labors are decreasing day-by-day, animal tillage is also reducing, and tractors are used for large farm. Robot driven tillage system can be used for any farm size. Most of the farmers in country have small farm size so it will be quite effective. For irrigation, we can use AI for where and when irrigation can be required in the farm. From mobile phone irrigation can be controlled.
In rural economy for the nonfarm sectors people’s productivity can be improved. Three dimensional printing machine needs to be provided to the artesian of the nation to increase the quality and quantity of their products. These are the huge opportunities. Our Prime Minister Hon’ble Shri Narendra Modi is talking about our technology driven future India by 2020. We have huge demographic advantage of youth population and we can target them and take these high technologies and future technologies into their work flow process so that output of both farm and nonfarm sector can be improved.
How can we have Public-Private partnership for promotion of future technologies implementation in various sectors of the society?
Dr Dutta: Technologies is sector diagnostic. If we see the total value chain, the role of Public sector is different from the role of Private sector. Technology when it is marketable it is the role of the Private sectors to promote it. When technology is below the value chain that means when it is at the nurturing stage, it needs to be nurtured by the Public sectors. Technology develops from our science understanding or broadly speaking knowledge understanding. During nurturing stage the role of Government body or Public sector. Research in any nation is supported by the Government of the nation. Any technology development depends on the huge investment on research and development section. There are very few companies who invest in basic research and development of the technology. Basic science or research work in basic technology is the backbone of the scientific or technological growth of the country. So, role of the public sector is to nurture the knowledge and bring it up to the prototyping stage or pre commercialization stage. After commercialization stage come the roles of private companies. We need to bring them together. India has a very vibrant & potential bunch of startups. Most of the startups are driven by young people. Such startups should work with big corporate as well as Government and Public sector bodies. In this way, knowledge can be transferred from big giant to the indigenous companies. This will make work focused towards Indian problems. India is a global knowledge hub for the Global private companies. Those global or foreign companies look for market towards India because of big demographic dividend in the country. Our private sector should be realigned and should be for the benefit of our knowledge, customized for our need and technology for us can give us the global advantage. In brief, we mean output for the country from its citizen and by its technocrats.