By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Aug 14
In an extempore address on his first visit to the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw up four out-of-the-box suggestions to rejuvenate the functioning of India’s best-funded technology research organization.
Lauding the DRDO’s successes, Modi likened its technologists to the sages (“rishis”) of ancient India, who isolated themselves from the world to produce intellectual masterpieces.
Urging close contact between those who develop weapons and those who use them, the PM suggested that the DRDO should consult closely with the soldiers, sailors and airmen, who would provide innovative and practical ideas to pursue.
"Are our scientists getting the opportunity to interface with Army personnel? Has the jawan ever seen the “rishi” who has laboured in a laboratory for 15 years? When this happens, it will be very good,” said Modi.
Accepting the need for high-tech equipment, the PM asked the DRDO to focus on the soldier’s personal kit. For example, a water bottle that weighed, say, 300 grams, could be brought down to 150 grams; the soldier could be given lighter boots to reduce fatigue.
The PM next suggested that the DRDO should empower its younger scientists by manning 5 of its 52 laboratories with scientists who were all under 35 years of age. "We need labs in India which utilize raw talent, which employ people only below the age of 35. Let us allow these young scientists full decision-making power," he said.
Talking later to Business Standard, DRDO chief, Avinash Chander, confirmed he would implement this idea. “Already some DRDO laboratories, especially those dealing with 21st century subjects like cyber security, electronic warfare and underwater systems, are manned almost entirely by scientists under 35”, he said.
Speaking before the PM, Chander had identified the rising age profile of the DRDO as an urgent problem, which could be addressed by recruiting 300 young scientists every year.
Modi’s third idea addressed a key DRDO bugbear: endemic time overruns in developing equipment. The PM suggested that, rather than developing weaponry that is already in service with advanced militaries, the DRDO should focus on equipment still on global drawing boards, and beat other countries in developing these.
"Our big challenge is to complete our work before time. If the world will finish something in 2020, can we do it by 2018?" Modi said.
Interestingly, the PM noted that project delays stemmed from an easy-going national attitude, rather than from any shortage of ability or resources. "I think there is this 'chalta hai' (lackadaisical) attitude".
Finally, Modi suggested that DRDO scientists be seconded to selected universities and academic institutions, where they could direct and mentor student research. He pointed out that award winning DRDO scientists would be an inspiration to research scholars.
The PM was attending the DRDO’s annual awards ceremony. Speaking earlier, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said, “India’s peculiar geographical location cannot be altered. We are located in a disturbed neighbourhood. National security is our topmost priority and, for that, technology is important.”
Jaitley pitched strongly for making India “a hub for defence manufacturing”. He said, “So far we have lived with an error, where we were quite satisfied partly researching and partly manufacturing ourselves, and substantially relying on equipment from outside. I think that equation is slowly changing; but this slow pace needs to be expedited and it is an expedition itself.”