Article

Space tech start-ups need more government nurturing, resources


Published in the Indian Express on June 8, 2020

We must trust and support early-stage innovations through “adventure” capital, not just risk-averse venture capital. We also need “patient” capital, as the lead times are long in this sector.

On May 16, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a ground-breaking initiative by opening up space and atomic energy to private players, referring to them as “fellow travellers”. And, on May 30, history was created by SpaceX when NASA astronauts were launched into orbit by the first-ever commercially-built rocket and spacecraft. “NewSpace” is a rapidly growing market that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade. Can India take advantage?

The welcome reforms announced by the FM include the levelling of the playing field for private companies in satellites, launches and space-based services by introducing a predictable policy and regulatory environment to private players and providing access to geospatial data and facilities of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Many doors of opportunity are opening in this sector. Reportedly, more than 17,000 small satellites will be launched in Low Earth Orbit by 2030. Exciting Indian space-tech startups are emerging in this area.

For instance, Pixxel, founded by two BITS Pilani graduates, is building a constellation of nano-satellites to provide global, real-time and affordable satellite imagery services. Bengaluru-based startup, Bellatrix Aerospace offers novel “electric propulsion” systems, which have applications in the field of nano and micro-satellite propulsion. And Mumbai-based startup Manastu Space has developed a “green propulsion” system using hydrogen peroxide as fuel. So, what can we do to help such young “co-travellers”?

First, the crucial issue of funding. We must trust and support early-stage innovations through “adventure” capital, not just risk-averse venture capital. We also need “patient” capital, as the lead times are long in this sector.

The government can be the provider of such adventure and patient capital. It did so in 2000, when we at CSIR launched the New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative. CSIR gave very low-interest soft loans to early-stage startups, who explored radical ideas. After proof of concept, other financial instruments, including venture capital, became available. So, the public-private partnership that the FM is referring to should be in financing too, not just in development.

Second, startups need a head start in the market and the current public procurement system is heavily loaded against them. The lowest-cost-selection approach must change to lower total cost of ownership. Path Ahead: Transformative Ideas for India, edited by Amitabh Kant, carries my chapter on creating an innovative public procurement policy for startups. Perhaps, it is worth revisiting.

Third, we need to create a robust space tech-startup national innovation ecosystem comprising incubators, accelerators, scalerators and mentors. ISRO has a pivotal role in anchoring this initiative. Just as important will be the synergy with the government’s flagship programmes such as Digital India, Startup India, Make in India, Smart Cities Mission, etc.

Fourth, we urgently need a law that allows private players to participate across the space value chain, not just bits of it, as is the case today. The draft Space Activities Bill, introduced in 2017, has lapsed. This is an opportunity to rewrite it with a bold perspective.

Fifth, the nation needs a new mantra. On May 26, in an interview about actioning the recent initiatives announced by the finance minister, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, offered it. Referring to the principal idea from my recent book on the subject, he said that we must move our aspirations from leapfrogging to pole vaulting. Can India pole vault to a 10 per cent share of the global space economy within a decade?

Yes, we can. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given us an inspiring agenda of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. To achieve this, we need “aatmavishwas” — self-belief, and trust. If we build this atmavishwas with bold policies coupled with determined actions, then we can certainly pole vault to a great new future, and sooner rather than later.

This article first appeared in the print edition on June 3, 2020 under the title ‘A new frontier’. The writer is former DG, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research.

Innovative Public Procurement Policy for Fuelling ASSURED Inclusive Innovation


Rising inequality is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Income inequalities, for instance, create access (education, health, public services) inequalities. This leads to social disharmony. However, reducing income inequalities takes generations. Can we create access equality despite income inequality? The answer is yes, we can.

To illustrate the point, here are some simple specific questions:

• Can we make a high quality Hepatitis-B vaccine priced at $20 per dose available at a price that is 40 times less, not just 40 per cent?
• Can we make a high quality artificial foot priced at $10,000 available at a price that is 300 times less, not just 30 per cent?
• Can we make a high quality cataract eye surgery, costing $3,000, available at a price that is 100 times less, not just 100 per cent?
• Can we make a $10,000 ECG machine available a price that is 20 times lower, and not just 20 per cent?

Incredible as it may sound, all these impossible sounding four feats have been achieved by Indian innovators–Shantha Biotech(1) Jaipur Foot(2) Aravind Eye Care(3) and Indian engineers in GE Healthcare in Bangalore(4) respectively.
All the above are ASSURED inclusive innovations, which stands for:

A (Affordable)
S (Scalable)
S (Sustainable)
U (Universal)
R (Rapid)
E (Excellent)
D (Distinctive)

Why ASSURED?

A (Affordability) is required to create access for everyone across the economic pyramid, especially the bottom. S (Scalability) is required to make real impact by reaching out to every individual in society, and not just a privileged few. S (Sustainability) is required in many contexts; environmental, economic and societal. U (Universal) implies user friendliness, so that the innovation can be used irrespective of the skill levels of an individual citizen. R (Rapid) means speed. Acceleration in inclusive growth cannot be achieved without speed of action matching speed of innovative thoughts. E (Excellence) in technology, product quality, and service quality is required for everyone in society, since rising aspirations of resource-poor people have to be fulfilled. D (Distinctive) is required, since one does not want to promote copycat, ‘me too’ products and services. In fact, we should raise our ambitions and make D (disruptive), which will be truly game changing, as shown in examples below.

Indian innovators have the ability to move from low performance, cheap knock-off versions of technologies in developed nations to harnessing sophisticated technological or non-technological innovations to produce affordable quality goods and services. The inevitability of such a strategic shift has been highlighted in a number of recent scholarly contributions.(5-9)

Recent Game Changing ASSURED Inclusive Innovations

In recent times, India has witnessed two game changing ASSURED inclusive innovations–the government-led JAM combining J (Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna), A (Aaadhar identification and authentication) and M (mobile telecommunications) (10) and the other was private sector led, namely Jio(11).

JAM, with all the 7 elements of ASSURED, created the fastest and largest financial inclusion in the world, with 300 million plus bank accounts opening up in record time.

Reliance Jio(11) catapulted India from the 155th rank in mobile data transmission globally to the current number one position. More importantly, Jio moved India from missed call to video call –a shift from Jugaad to systematic innovation.

Challenge in Creating ASSURED Indian Inclusive Innovation

India could have been the birthplace of many game changing ASSURED inclusive innovations, but for the fact that some letters, pertaining to speed, scale and sustainability went missing from ASSURED.

As an illustration, let us take the case of Simputer, a product of Indian innovation launched by the Simputer Trust on 25 April, 2001, which was designed to be a low cost and portable alternative to PCs(12). The idea was to create shared devices that permit truly simple and natural user interfaces based on sight, touch and audio. The Simputer was to read and speak in several Indian languages in its initial release.

The innovation was hailed for its ‘radical simplicity for universal access.’ Before the arrival of the smart phone in 2003, Simputer had anticipated some breakthrough technologies that are now commonplace in mobile devices. One of them was the accelerometer, introduced to the rest of the world for the first time in the iPhone. The other was doodle on mail, the ability to write on a phone, that became a major feature on Samsung Galaxy phones.

Despite having the key letters from ASSURED representing Affordable, Excellence, Universal (user friendly) and Distinctive, what went missing was Rapid (speed), Scale and Sustainability! Why? No innovation-friendly public procurement policy despite many rural specific demonstrations.

Yet another bus in the same space was missed five years later.

New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI) Led Products

At a national level, in 2000, CSIR conceived and operationalized the New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI), which was based on the idea of competitive bids based on national grand challenges(14). It was a bold public–private partnership (India’s largest so far) with the private sector getting very low interest loans (to be returned only if successful) and the public sector getting grants. The best brains in India worked together in a ‘Team India’ fashion.

NMITLI gave several grand challenges in the year 2000 aligned with many critical national needs. For instance, when the cost of a laptop was $2000, NMITLI gave a challenge of making it ten times cheaper, around $200. After inviting competitive bids, Vinay Deshpande from Encore in Bangalore won the bid. Mobilis, a mobile PC was launched in March 2005 meeting the price-performance demand set.

NMITLI was to focus only on the proof of concept. However, it went an extra mile to help doing the initial prototyping. Today, an improved version of Mobilis is being sold in rather limited numbers as DSK Mobiliz(15), which is an indigenous, affordable, high performance, solar powered mobile computer. An innovative public procurement policy in 2005 would have helped it scale rapidly, giving India a global leadership.

Public procurement in India in general has a tendency to opt for lowest cost (L1) and low risk solutions, low-margin players and mature technology. Innovation is not routinely welcomed or rewarded. In part, this is due to the competing objectives and bureaucratic barriers that public procurers face, which discourage risk taking.

We must move away from this and create a bold, transparent and innovative public procurement policy for fuelling ASSURED inclusive innovation.

Fundamentals of designing an innovative public procurement policy

Innovations are products of creative interaction of supply and demand. India has incentivized supply through creation of numerous national research and technology organizations that it funds. It has created schemes for part financing ‘technology led businesses’. Examples include NMITLI, Biotechnology Industrial Research Assistance Council(16) ,Technology Development Board(17), etc. Various financial incentives, such as weighted tax deductions have also been given to spur industry led supply of R&D.

We also need aggressive demand side initiatives. With large procurement budgets, the Indian government can not only be the biggest, but also the most influential and demanding customer.

The government approach could be based on three pillars.

First, government could act as the ‘first buyer’ and an ‘early user’ for small, innovative firms and manage the consequent risk thus providing the initial revenue and customer feedback they need to survive and refine their products and services so that they can later compete effectively in the global marketplace. (Interestingly, based on a survey(18) of 1,100 innovative firms in Germany, it was found that public procurement is especially effective for smaller firms in regions under economic stress–a helpful lesson for India.)

Second, government can set up regulations that can successfully drive innovation either indirectly through altering market structure and affecting the funds available for investment, or directly through boosting or limiting demand for particular products and services.

Third, government can set standards that can create market power by generating demand for innovation. Agreed standards will ensure that the risk taken by both early adopters and innovators is lower, thus increasing investment in innovation. The standards should be set at a demanding level of functionality without specifying which solution must be followed. By not prescribing a specific route, innovation is bound to flourish.

I International experience

Many nations have set up innovative public procurement policies for boosting global competitiveness. China has set up truly aggressive policies. OECD members have also taken a big lead. Based on best practices in OECD and in partner countries, OECD recently published a report in June 2017 titled Public Procurement for Innovation: Good Practices & Strategies (19).

Almost 80 per cent of OECD members are reported to have taken measures to support innovation procurement while 50 per cent have developed an action plan for the same.

More than a third of European companies have sold an innovative product or service as part of a public procurement contract they won since 2011(20) More specifically, Germany(21) has created a new Agreement on Public Procurement of Innovation by which six federal ministries (interior, economics, defence, transport, environment and research) will promote innovative procurement.

Roadmap for Creating Innovative Public Procurement Policy

However, context defines the content. Indian policies will have to be based on the dynamically changing Indian context.
The following ten point action agenda is suggested.

1. India has progressed from a science policy resolution (1957) to Technology Policy Statement (1983) to Science & Technology Policy (2003) to Science, Technology & Innovation Policy (2013). It is time that India@70 sets up a fully integrated National Innovation Policy; integrated, since beyond technology innovation, non-technological innovations such as social, business model, work flow, system delivery, process and policy innovations play a critical role. The policy should be such that it should propel India@75 to be among the very top innovative nations.

2. In this integrated innovation policy, inclusive innovation for accelerated inclusive growth would be a major thrust. In this agenda, affordable excellence should be an important subset with well-defined, affordable, price-high performance for public services in health, education, energy, housing and water.

3. An important component of the National Innovation Policy should be innovation oriented public procurement policy, which should be ‘for’ innovation as well as ‘of’ innovation, thus catalyzing both the demand and supply side of the innovation equation. Public procurement of innovative goods and services can induce innovation by specifying levels of performance or functionality that are not achievable with ‘off-the-shelf’ products, because such exacting demand can be only met by innovation.

4. The policy in (3) above should be based on 3 pillars of talent, technology and trust. Transparency is a prerequisite to trust. To achieve this, a legal framework will have to be designed, which should include easily understandable definitions, guidelines and templates based on the ASSURED principles highlighted earlier. This will facilitate smooth and speedy implementation.

5. All the ministries should be mandated to publish long-term demand forecasts, engage in continuous market analysis to identify potential breakthrough solutions, offer professional training on legal options to promote innovation, and foster a strategic dialogue and exchange of experiences between procuring agencies, end-users, industry, and procurement agencies.

6. Procurement agencies from ministries should be given specific targets for innovation procurement. Provision of annual budgets, dedicated funds and stimulating financial incentives, especially for public-private partnerships, will have to be a key part of the execution plan.

7. For speedy implementation, an ‘Innovation Procurement Platform’ as an online hub should be created. It will help procurers, policy makers, government authorities, innovators, and other stakeholders to fully utilize the power of public procurement of innovation. The platform could comprise a website, a procurement forum and a knowledge resource centre. The procurement forum should provide a space for procurers and related stakeholders to share, connect and interact. The resource centre should have central databases and all documents relating to public procurement policy of and for innovation.

8. Major investments will have to be made in capacity building by way of of specific training to build staff capabilities and skills, setting up multidisciplinary teams and competence centres, raising awareness by hosting workshops and seminars.

9. To reduce possible loss and damage, robust risk management and impact measurement systems will have to be put in place. Powerful e-procurement and IT tools should be used to carry out proper risk assessment.

10. Standardization should be used as a catalyst for innovation with full consultation with Indian industry. One should define the test standards, methods and the process for giving quality certificates.

Execution of innovation-friendly public procurement policy

Supply-led approach

The Prime Minister’s inspiring clarion calls on Start-up India and Stand-up India have stirred the nation. The government has also provided a number of remarkable incentives for start-ups. Of these, the relaxation of public procurement norms for start-ups heralds a great beginning.

But for fuelling ASSURED inclusive innovation, we need to identify start-ups that have game-changing ideas based on the solid foundation of affordable excellence.

Just as an illustration, we present here two start-ups that are the winners of the Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Award(22)

Mihir Shah’s UE Life Sciences has developed (23) the non-invasive and painless iBreastExam, a simple, accurate, and affordable palm sized handheld device that is used for early detection of breast tumours, without mammography. . The device is US FDA cleared and CE marked. It can be operated by any community health worker, and only Rs. 65 ($1) per scan!

Can we design a very simple and affordable portable ECG device, which allows the ECG to be seen by an expert miles away?

This has been achieved by another awardee, Rahul Rastogi, who created (24) a portable match box size 12-lead ECG machine. The cost is just Rs 5 (8 cents) per ECG test.

These are all innovations in the formal science/technology system. However, India has a huge reservoir of grassroots innovations, meaning innovations by the people and for the people. The potential of some of the select grassroots innovations, in partnership with formal science/technology institutions, can be brought to meet the ASSURED criteria too.

Demand-led approach

Within this, there could be two approaches. The first is to leverage the existing national portfolio of innovation and the second is to create new knowledge assets through grand challenges.

Consider the first approach. For instance, look at the outcome of a specific NMITLI based public-private partnership, which has the capacity of giving India a leadership in fuel cells for electricity generation, thus dramatically reducing India’s carbon foot print. This is a critical area, where technology is not available to India.

The NMITLI program has led to successful demonstration of indigenously developed and extensively tested 1-3 kWe low-temperature Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell stacks. It has also led to the development of high-temperature PEM fuel cells, which are currently being scaled up to 5 kWe. Both technologies are based on successful translation of science resulting in 30 plus patent applications and 150 high quality publications.

Most importantly, this program has also led to the development of the entire ecosystem for PEM fuel cells comprising (a) SME vendors, who can manufacture the critical materials, components and sub-assemblies of the stacks such as the catalyst, membranes, gas diffusion layers and membrane electrode assemblies. (b) aggregators, who can assemble fuel cell systems comprising stack, balance of plant components, fuel generators, power electronics and control systems, and (c) industrial users of PEM fuel cell systems.

How can public procurement catalyze successful penetration of PEM fuel cells in Indian markets? While PEM fuel cells can be used in diverse areas such as stationary power generation, long-range electric vehicles, defence and industrial co-generation, perhaps the first important market penetration can be in replacement of around 600,000 diesel generator sets that are presently installed with telecommunication towers to provide back-up power. A PEM fuel cell provides reliable, efficient, quick start-up, low-noise and cleaner energy, as the exhaust from a fuel cell is water and not solid particulates as in diesel generators. The total cost of operation of a PEM fuel cell with an on-board compact methanol reformer to generate hydrogen is similar to that of diesel generator. It is estimated that if just 30 per cent of present towers shift to PEM fuel cells, there would be a need for 180,000 PEM fuel cell systems of 3-5 kWe rating for this one application alone resulting in the creation of 20,000 jobs in the SME sector.

A national policy(25) that incentivizes adoption of alternative power generation systems such as PEM fuel cells supported by large scale public procurement initiative can led to Indian leadership in this technology.

The second approach is to set new grand challenges aligned with critical Indian needs on the ASSURED principles enumerated earlier.

The Expert Committee set up by NITI Aayog has strongly advocated that Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) funds should be used to finance grand challenges.(26) We strongly support the identified grand challenges as also the proposed execution model.

Innovative public procurement policy for and of ASSURED inclusive innovation can greatly help India in achieving multiple objectives, including

o Social harmony. It will help createequality of access despite income inequality.

o Affordability. It will lead to scale, thus bringing equity to large population.

o Excellence. On one hand, excellence will meet the rising aspirations of local populace for high quality goods and services. On the other hand, it will open up opportunities for competitive exports to global markets.

In short, such a policy will help in creating a new India of our dreams, with a smile on the face of 1.25 billion Indians and not just a privileged few.

 

 

References

1. Indian Vaccine Innovation: The Case of Shantha Biotechnics, http://www.researchgate.net

2. The Jaipur Foot, https://www.researchgate.net.

3. A Case study on Aravind Eye Care Systems – Aravind Eye Hospital, www.aravind.org.

4. Reverse Innovation at GE Healthcare https://academilib.com

5. Prahalad, C.K. and Mashelkar, R.A., Innovation’s Holy Grail, Harvard Business Review, July-August, 2010.

6. Mashelkar, R. A., Reinventing India, Sahyadri Publications, 2011.

7. Mashelkar, R.A., `Indovation’ for affordable excellence’, Current Science, Vol. 108, No. 1, pp 7-8, 10 January, 2015.

8. Radjou Navi and Prabhu Jaideep, Frugal Innovation: How to do more with less, Profile Books Ltd, London, 2015.

9. Immelt, J.R., Govinadrajan, V and Trimble, C, How GE Is Disrupting Itself, Harvard Business Review, October, 2009.

10. Jan Dhan 2.0, www.inspirit.in

11. Reliance Jio : Time to take digital innovations at grassroots level, The Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com

12. The Simputer: Access Device for Masses, www.simputer.org.

13. Sterling, Bruce, The year in Ideas, New York Times, Magazine, 9 Dec. 2001.

14. Mashelkar, R.A., Current Science, `What will it take for Indian science, technology & innovation to make global impact’ Vol. 109, pp 1021-1042, 25 Sept. 2015.

15. DSK Mobilitz, www.dskdigital.com

16. BIRAC, www.birac.nic.in

17. Technology Development Board, tdb.gov.in

18. Aschhsff, Birgit and Sofka, Wolfgang, Research Policy, Vol. 38, issue 8, pp. 1235-47, October 2009.

19. http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset/management/oecd/governance/public-procurement-for-innovation.

20. http://www.innovation-procurement.org/about-ppi/facts-figures/.

21. https://www.innovationpolicyplatform.org/content/public-procurement-innovation.

22. Edquist C, Zabala-Iturriagagoitia JM (2012) Public procurement for innovation as mission oriented innovation policy. Res Policy 41(10):1757–1769.

23. Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Award, award.ilcindia.org

24. More from Less for More: One Company’s Quest to Tackle Early Breast Cancer Detection in Developing Countries, Deanna Crusco, October 5, 2017, Sc Science Center, infor@sciencecenter.org.

25. Agastsa: Sanket Life for All, www.agatsa.com.

26. http://www.trai.gov.in/sites/default/files/Consultation_Paper_16_jan_2017_0.pdf

27. Report of the Expert Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, niti.gov.in

Mentoring: View from a Personal Lens – 11 Nov 2017


Submission for mentoring initiative spearheaded by Indian National Institute of Advanced Studies

I have been doing science as well as leading science in India for close to fifty years now. Mentorship has played a great role in my life. I have been both a mentee and mentor. I will share some of my own learnings from my experiences.

As regards mentoring, I have mentored a number of young scientists, young innovators as well as science and innovation leaders.

Five guiding principles have helped me.

First, I believe everyone is someone. Everyone has a potential. Mentor’s first responsibility is to see as to how the mentee could reach his true potential, and having reached that, how can he exceed that! And for this `one box fits all’ strategy can’t work at all. Each individual is different in terms of ability, attitude, aptitude, adaptability, etc. So I used to have a personalised strategy for each one of the mentees.

My constant common reminder to my mentees, however, was that there is no limit to human endurance, no limit to human imagination, no limit to human achievements, excepting the limits you will put on to yourself.

I used to narrate to them inspiring stories that will make them believe that this indeed is the case. My favourite story that often used to inspire them was about the conquest of Mount Everest, earth’s highest mountain. I used to remind them that until Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary conquered Everest in 1953, the feat was considered to be impossible. But once it was shown that it was possible, there have been close to 6000 conquests! And impossible looking feats have been done.

Someone has climbed Everest 21 times, someone has climbed it without supplemental oxygen, an eighty year old has climbed it as also a young boy and a girl (each of age less than fourteen) have climbed it, a blind person, a double leg amputee and a double arm amputee have climbed it! So there is no limit to human achievement. If they could do it, you could do it too.

Second, for a mentor, it is extremely important to be positive. When I was the Director of National Chemical Laboratory. I had the reputation of being a `Why not Director?’ Whenever someone came to me even with an audacious idea, my first response would be `why not’?

We have a big challenge that we all face in India. Anytime there is a new idea, there is a reluctance to accept it. Supposing there is a brainstorming on a new idea, the typical comments will be

`Too risky’
`Suppose it fails’
`Impossible, never done before’
`Somebody has tried it before’
`Let me play devil’s advocate!’

While mentoring young science and innovation leaders, I always used to emphasise two definitions of an innovator, which were close to my heart.

Innovator is one, who does not know that it cannot be done. Innovator is one, who sees what everyone else sees, but thinks of what no one else thinks.

A great innovator has to be curious. Curiosity leads to creativity, which in turn leads to new creation. So I had identified eight enemies of creativity. They are

Desire to please all
Big ego
Self-doubt
Control
Fear of failure
Process rigor
Impatience
Abundance

And I used to constantly watch and correct for each of these attributes.

My mentoring was also directed towards creating innovation leaders, who had the following attributes.

Find opportunities, where others see nothing.
Convert problems into opportunity.
Set quantum goals.
Drive discontinuity – encourage risk.

I mentored leaders, who had the capability of thinking beyond the realms of possibility. I used to always tell them that if someone asks you what is your business, you should be able to say, that your business was to make impossible possible.

The third principle that I followed was that one never told a mentee about what to do but how to do. And that obviously meant that the mentee will be learning by doing. Taking risks and, therefore, failing was an obvious part of learning. I used to give them a different definition of the world fail. I used to say `fail’ is `first attempt in learning’.

The fourth principle was that a mentor has to be a trusted advisor. It takes time to build a trust. And there are several aspects to building trust. The mentor has to be an active listener, with a great deal of emotional intelligence and empathy. He has to be open minded. He has to also lead by example. A mentor cannot, for instance, tell a mentee that you should take risk, whereas in that mentor’s own life, he has taken no risk!

So while telling the mentees that they should take risks, I used to tell mentees as how I myself took risks, not only when doing my own science, but also when teaching science.

I was, for instance, always fascinated by failed experiments, data that were outliers, anomalies, etc. I have written a paper `The Fun and Joy of Science: Learning from Anomalies & Discontinuities’, (Current Science, 2003, Vol. 85(7), p 860), where I describe how my own science was based on taking on risky problems.

As regards risk taking while leading science, I tried some experiments to create the spirit of risk taking by innovative funding mechanisms. As the Director of the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), I created “kite flying fund”, where audacious ideas would be supported. I set aside only one percent of my research budget for supporting any idea, which had a chance of success that was one in thousand. The signal that was sent across the laboratory was that dreaming and failure was not a crime. And I remember the enthusiasm with which this fund was received.

As Director General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which comprised 40 national laboratories, I created a “New Idea Fund” with a similar objective. Again the results were amazing.

Then I tried this on a nationwide scale. In the year 2000, the equivalent of ‘’Kite Flying Fund’ in NCL and ‘New Idea Fund’ in CSIR was conceptualized for the nation as a whole. It was called New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NMITLI). The key word was leadership. The initiative was to make Indian technology lead and not follow. I was concerned by the fact that India was busy in creating products that were first to India but not first to the world. But creating ideas that were first to the world meant creating ideas that were never tried before. This meant that there was always a big chance of a failure. So this possibility of potential failure was built into the funding mechanism for NMITLI. Again the results were amazing!

The sum and substance of what I am emphasizing is that a mentor has to set an example to become a trusted advisor. When the mentee sees that the mentor is practicing what he is preaching, mentee automatically trusts him in whatever he says.

Fifth and final. To all my mentees, I used to give the following Ten Commandments.

1. Your aspirations are your possibilities, keep them always high.
2. Like instant coffee, there is no instant success. Work hard, success will follow.
3. But work hard in silence. Let success make the noise.
4. Persistence pays. It is always too soon to quit.
5. Don’t wait for opportunities to knock on your door, create opportunities, build your own doors.
6. You can do anything but not everything. So choose. Focus.
7. Be curious forever. Creativity follows curiosity. New creation follows creativity.
8. When someone tells you it can’t be done, take it more as a reflection of his limitation, not yours.
9. `I’ in every individual must stand for innovation, not for inhibition or imitation. It is better to fail in originality, then succeed in limitation.
10. There is no limit to human imagination and achievement, excepting the limits you yourself put on your mind. So go limitless. Outperform yourself.

As regards my own experience of myself being a mentee, all that I can say with all humility is that I gave to my mentees the teachings that I received from my mentors, such as my own mother, some of my inspiring school teachers, Prof. M.M. Sharma, Prof. C.N.R. Rao. To all of them, I shall ever remain so grateful!

Log On To The Power Of Ideas – TOI, 8 Aug 2009


“The next 10 years would be dedicated as a decade of innovation” were the words used by the President of India to conclude her address to the Parliament on June 4. On June 7, US President Obama, in his Cairo address, said “education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century”. During 3-5 June, the first Global Innovation Leaders Summit (I-20), fashioned on G-20, was held in San Francisco. I was invited to represent India. I-20 accepted Norway’s suggestion of introducing a Nobel Prize for innovation. So from Delhi to Cairo to San Francisco, the buzz was around innovation.

This ‘buzz’ has been around for a while though. For instance, the names of the ministries of science and technology, in Argentina, Australia, Spain, South Africa, Malaysia, UK, etc. have been changed with the word ‘innovation’ explicitly included. So why is innovation suddenly gaining such a currency?

Innovation Led Growth, Innovation Led Recovery, Innovation Led Competitiveness are not mere slogans, they are a hard reality.

Innovation is all about converting ideas into new or improved products, processes and services. India’s world ranking on innovation is low. Among 130 countries, India is ranked only 41 in the innovation index (www.siliconindia.com). Even Malaysia (25) and China (37) are ahead of India. Singapore and Korea are in the top 10.

Look beyond statistics now. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT, Madras develops the wireless local loop technology. It gets implemented first in Madagascar, Angola and Brazil before it does so in India! CSIR’s New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative gave the challenge and funding for the creation of a low cost computer to Vinay Deshpande of Encore. He created Mobilis, a mobile personal computer. But the first Mobilis will be produced this year in Malaysia and Brazil and not in India. Due to the limitations in India’s patent laws the phytopharmaceutical breakthrough medicine on psoriasis by Piramal Life Sciences will be commercialized first in the west, not in India. And one can go on.

Innovation converts knowledge into wealth. We should recognize that Saraswati and Lakshmi should coexist. George Whitesides from Harvard is the highest cited scientist in the world – and the market capitalization of his research based companies is over USD 20 billion! Such academic entrepreneurship is missing in India. Indian genes express themselves in silicon valley. But not in Indus valley. Why?

Why do we fail in completing the journey from an Indian mind to an Indian market place? Because India lacks a robust national innovation ecosystem. The essential elements of a powerful ecosystem comprises physical, intellectual and cultural constructs. Beyond mere research labs it includes idea incubators, technology parks, conducive intellectual property rights regime, enlightened regulatory systems, academics who believe in not just ‘publish or perish’, but ‘patent, publish and prosper’, potent inventor-investor engagement, ‘ad’venture capital, and passionate innovation leaders.

The unique genes of almost every Indian for innovation became evident to me while chairing the National Innovation Foundation and Marico Innovation Foundation. That even an ordinary Indian in a remote village can innovate has been demonstrated by Anil Gupta’s pioneering Shodh Yatras in villages. The research by Marico Innovation Foundation in typically Indian innovation has brought out how some Indians make the seemingly impossible possible – examples range from Arvind Eye Care to Cavincare.

Gandhian Engineering is getting ‘more from less for more and more people and not for exclusive few’. India uniquely excels in such innovations. Tata’s Nano car ($ 2000), low cost, advanced hepatitis-B vaccine (18 cents), cheapest mobile phone call (1 cent), etc. are brilliant examples of Gandhian Engineering.

Paradigm shifts are occurring in the Indian innovation landscape. Earlier, Indians only created products that were new only to India. Now Tata’s Nano is a product that is new to the world! Our pharma industry is now creating new molecules, not just copying them. Reliance grew through scale, scope and cost. Now it has embarked on innovation led growth. Reliance Innovation Council under my chairmanship comprising world’s thought leaders, Nobel laureates, etc. is just the first step of Reliance’s ambitious journey.

Such and other recent pathbreaking events compel me to make five suggestions to kick start the ‘Indian Decade of Innovation’.

First, change ‘Ministry of Science & Technology’ to ‘Ministry of Science & Innovation’, boldly bringing the innovation agenda upfront.

Second, create an ambitious National Innovation Policy, going way beyond our Science and Technology Policy (2003).

Third, set up a powerful mechanism to implement this policy by creating National Innovation Council comprising world class innovation leaders. Make the council autonomous, empowered and accountable. Give it the mandate of putting India among the top 10 innovative nations within this ‘Decade of Innovation’.

Fourth, drive ‘Inclusive Growth’ by launching an ‘Indian Inclusive Innovation Initiative’ through the tenets of Gandhian Engineering.

Fifth, launch a National Innovation Movement like our freedom movement, so that innovation becomes every Indian’s obsession.

Then the dream of 21st century being innovative India’s century will certainly come true.

The Grand Challenges of Indian Science – The Hindu, 14 Dec 2009


The Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman had famously said, ‘the difficulty with science is often not with the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones. A certain amount of irreverence is essential for creative pursuit in science.’

The first grand challenge before Indian science is that of building some irreverence. Our students are too reverent. Our existing hierarchical structures kill irreverence. Promoting irreverence means building the questioning attitude. It means education systems that do not have the rigid unimaginative curricula, it means replacing ‘learning by rote’ by ‘learning by doing’ and to do away with the examination systems with single correct answers.
Paper or people?

More often than not, in our systems, paper becomes more important than people. Bureaucracy overrides meritocracy. Risk taking innovators are shot. Decision making time cycles are longer than the product life cycles. Therefore, the second grand challenge is that of creating an ‘innovation ecosystem’, in which questioning attitudes and healthy irreverence can grow.

The third grand challenge is of creating truly innovative scientists, who see what everyone else sees but think of what no one else thinks. The 2005 Nobel Prize winners for medicine, Warren and Marshall, for instance, were such innovators. Everyone had thought that the cause of gastritis inflammation and stomach ulceration is excessive acid secretion due to irregularities in diet and lifestyle. Warren & Marshall postulated that the causative agent was, a bacterium called Heliobacter pylori. They were ridiculed but they stuck to their guns. They saw what the others did not see. And they were proved right.

The fourth grand challenge is the ability to pose, rather than merely solve, big problems. For example, James Watson felt sure that it was going to be possible to discover the molecular nature of the gene and worked hard at it — even to such an extent that he was fired from the Rockefeller Fellowship that he had. Einstein, when he was 15 years old, asked himself what would the world look like if [he] were moving with the velocity of light. This big question led finally to his special theory of relativity.

The fifth grand challenge is to create new mechanisms by which out of the box thinking will be triggered in Indian science. In the early nineties, when I was the Director of the National Chemical Laboratory, we tried to promote this by creating a small “kite flying fund”, where an out of the box idea with even a one in one thousand chance of success of would be supported. Bold thinking was applauded and failure was not punished. The result was remarkable ‘free thinking’ that gave us a quite a few breakthroughs.

When I moved to Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as Director-General in mid nineties, we created a “New Idea Fund” with a similar objective. Here, over time, it turned out that it was not the lack of funds, but it was lack of great ideas that was the bottleneck!

But great ideas did come to Indian scientists in the distant past. In 2003, Jayant Narlikar wrote a book The Scientific Edge. He listed the top 10 achievements of Indian science and technology in the 20th century. There are five before 1950 and five after 1950. Interestingly, the five before 1950 are all individual efforts, namely, the works by Ramanujam (the products of his mathematical genius are still researched on), Meghnad Saha (his ionization equation played a vital role in stellar astrophysics), S.N. Bose (his work on particle statistics was path breaking), C.V. Raman (his Raman effect discovery led to the one and only Nobel prize that an Indian scientist doing work in India has won) and G.N. Ramachandran (he was the father of molecular biophysics).

After 1950, Narlikar lists the other five achievements, namely the green revolution, space research, nuclear energy, superconductivity and transformation of CSIR in the nineties. In these, except for the superconductivity research, in which the likes of C.N.R. Rao made pioneering contributions, the rest are all government funded “organised science and technology”. Why is it that in the second half of 20th century, we could not recreate the magic of the early part of the century created by Ramanujams, Ramans, Boses and so on?

The potential Ramans and Ramanujams are there even today somewhere. We need to find them early enough and nurture them. For this, we need to recognise that there is no intellectual democracy; elitism in science is inevitable and needs to be promoted.

In the year 2005, the Nobel prize for physics was shared by Glauber, Hall and Hansch, a controversy erupted since many Indian scientists felt that it should have been shared by E.C.G. Sudarshan, a scientist of Indian origin. In the year 2009, we did better. A scientist of Indian origin, Venky Ramakrishnan shared the chemistry Nobel prize with Steitz and Yonath. The fact that Venky was born in India was a cause for great Indian celebration.

Next, will we have a Nobel prize for an Indian working in India?

Why not?

It certainly can happen. The government has created new institutions such as Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research. It has created schemes such as Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE), for drawing and retaining millions of young bright children into science. There are clear signs of reversal of brain drain.

Infosys has taken a giant step forward by creating mini Indian Nobel prizes worth half a crore rupees each for different scientific disciplines. If we can leverage all this by promoting that irreverence in Indian science, creating new organisational values, creating tolerance for risk taking and failure, then Indian science will certainly make that ‘much awaited’ difference. Nobel prizes will then follow inevitably.

Ten Mashelkar Mantras


The results of the board exams have just been declared. I want to congratulate all the students, who will begin the new journey of their life. In life, three things are going to be important in determining future. These are ability, aptitude and attitude.

Your abilities will be developed in your college and university. Your aptitude will be determined by what you really like and love. You should do what you love and you must love what you do. Then next is your attitude. Here I will give you ten Mashelkar mantras, which will help in your future life, just as they have helped me.

First, your aspirations are your possibilities, so keep your aspirations always high. Keep your eyes on the stars, and not down at your feet. We often complain about scarcity in India. But remember, the combination of scarcity and aspiration can create disruptive and game changing innovations.

Let me explain from my own learnings. When I took over as Director of National Chemical Laboratory in 1989, it was in the pre-liberalised India, which highly protected the Indian industry through huge tariff barriers. All our scientists were busy doing just import substitution by only copying foreign processes, products, etc. NCL budgets were very small. I said to my scientists, “It is not the size of the budget that matters, it is the size of the idea. Let’s keep our aspirations high. Rather than just being borrower of ideas and technology from foreign companies, let’s export our technology, let us license our patents to them”. Everyone thought that this was impossible to achieve. However, within two years, in 1991, we were able to license three of our US patents for close to a million US dollars to a multinational company, who was a leader in the field in which we had got these patents. This was the first ever reverse transfer of technology from an Indian national laboratory to a foreign multinational. It was sheer magic!

But who made this magic possible? The same NCL scientists who were merely copying so far. And why? Because they were fired up by the high aspiration of moving from copying to creating – from importing to exporting, from merely doing something that was first to India to doing something that was first to the world.

Second, you can do anything but not everything. So focus. I learnt the importance of focus early in my life. Let me tell you that story.

I remember going to a poor school in Mumbai. But that poor school had rich teachers. I remember Principal Bhave, who taught us physics. I remember his taking us out in to the sun to demonstrate as to how to find the focal length of a convex lens. He took a piece of paper, moved the lens till the brightest spot emerged on the paper, and told us that the distance between the paper and the lens was the focal length. But then he held it on for some time and the paper burnt. For some reason, he turned to me and said “Mashelkar, if you can focus your energies like this and not diffuse them, you can burn anything in the world!” I was so impressed with the power of science that I decided to become a scientist. But that experiment gave me the philosophy of life too; ‘focus and you will achieve’.

That’s why I say, never lose focus in your life.

Third, perseverance always pays. It is always too early to quit. Winners never quit and quitters never win. As Dr. Kalam had said, let the problems not defeat you –you should defeat the problems.

Michael Jordon, the legendary basketball player has said `I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed’.

So my friends, look at the world FAIL differently. FAIL is First Attempt in Learning. As long as you keep on learning from the errors you have done and not repeat them, you will ultimately win.

Fourth, be always a part of a solution, never a part of the problem. If you can’t find the way, create a new way. Don’t just knock on doors of opportunity. Create your own doors.

Let me again explain through my own experience. I returned to India in 1976. I needed sophisticated imported equipment to carry on my research in the field of rheology, in which I was researching abroad. There was acute shortage of foreign exchange in India. DGTD clearance, not manufactured in India certificates were needed for importing any equipment. In my case, I was told it would take 2 years.

So I opened my own new door of opportunity, which did not require any equipment I got into the field of mathematical modelling and simulation. We were so successful that within a short time, I got the S.S. Bhatnagar Prize, one of the highest scientific awards in the country. Just imagine what would have happened if I had just waited for that door of opportunity to open which required foreign equipment!

Fifth, there is no substitute to hard work for becoming successful. I have myself worked 24×7, week after week, month after month, year after year and will do so till I take my last breath. The golden rule is the following. Work hard in silence. Let success make the noise. Like instant coffee, there is no instant success. Your overnight success is always a result of everything that you have done through that moment. If you really look closely, most overnight success took a long time, as Steve Job famously said.

Sixth, again about success. Please remember that success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing, as the legendary footballer Pele, who reached an ultimate pinnacle of success in life, had said.

Seventh, always be innovative. Remember, innovator is one who sees what everyone else sees, but thinks of what none else thinks. Indeed, if you master the art of visualizing the invisible, you can make even seemingly impossible, possible.

Eighth, continue to be creative. It does not get exhausted. The more you use creativity, the more you will have it.

Ninth, when someone tells you that it can’t be done, take it that it is more a reflection of his or her limitation, not yours. Remember, innovator is one, who does not know that it cannot be done.

Tenth, I strongly believe that there is no limit to human endurance and no limit to human achievement excepting the limits you put on your mind yourself. So be `limitless’.

Let me illustrate this with some inspiring examples.

Swapna Burman is a girl with 6 toes in both legs but with no money for special shoes. Her father was a rickshaw puller. Her mother was working in a tea garden. She ran for India in the final event of Heptathlon in the recent Asian games with a bandaged jaw. She won a medal for India.

Arunima Sinha was a national level volleyball player. She was pushed from a running train by some robbers in 2011. As a result, one of her legs had to be amputated below the knee. She was inspired by cricketer Yuvraj Singh, who had successfully battled cancer. She said, if he can do it, I will do it too. She decided to do something special with her life. She hoisted the Indian flag on Mount Everest on 21 May 2013, just two years after she lost her leg.

My friends, that’s why I say that there is no limit to human endurance and achievement, except the limit you put on yourself.

So all my best wishes to you. May you put no limits on your mind, and may you achieve limitless success in your life.

मी पाहिलेले अटलजी – डॉ. रघुनाथ माशेलकर


अटलजी आज आपल्यात नाहीत हे पटत नाही. पण मी म्हणेन की, अटलजी ही एक व्यक्ती नव्हती, एक संस्था होती, एक विचार होता, एक संदेश होता. म्हणून ते चिरंतन आहेत आणि राहतील. अटलजी पंतप्रधान असतांना मी सी.एस.आय.आर च्या ४० राष्ट्रीय प्रयोगशाळांचा प्रमुख होतो. अटलजी पंतप्रधान या नात्याने सी.एस.आय.आर सोसायटीचे अध्यक्ष होते. त्यामुळे मी त्यांना जवळून पाहिलं आहे.

अटलजींचा मला प्रचंड पाठिबा होता. त्यामुळे सी.एस.आय.आर या संस्थेत मी आमूलाग्र बदल करू शकलो. डॉ. जयंत नारळीकरांच्या ‘सायंटिफिक एज’ या २००३ साली लिहिलेल्या पुस्तकात त्यांनी २० व्या शतकातील भारतीय विज्ञान व तंत्रज्ञानातील १० सर्वात महत्वपूर्ण अशा पराक्रमांची यादी केली आहे. त्यांत रामानुजन, साहा, एस.एन.बोस, रमण, रामचंद्रन या शांस्त्रज्ञाशिवाय हरितक्रांती, अणुऊर्जा, अंतराळ क्षेत्रातील प्रगतीचा उल्लेख केला आहे. पण दहावी घटना आहे मी सी.एस.आय.आर चा महासंचालक असतांना त्या संस्थेचं झालेलं परिवर्तन. त्यासाठी मला कठोर निर्णय घ्यावे लागले. काही प्रयोगशाळा बंद कराव्या लागल्या. या संस्थेच्या इतिहासात हे प्रथम घडलं. केवळ गुणवत्तेलाच महत्व व प्राधान्य दिलं. परिणामी अनेक गटांकडून विरोध झाला. पण अटलजीं माझ्यामागे ठामपणे उभे राहिले. म्हणूनच या परिवर्तनाचं सर्व श्रेय मी त्यांना देतो.

अटलजींचा माझ्यावर प्रचंड विश्वास होता. काही कठीण समस्या आल्या की माशेलकर समिती नेमा असं ते सांगत. नॅशनल ऑटो फ्युएल पॉलिसी असो की रीजनल इंजिनीरिंग कॉलेजेस मध्ये परिवर्तन करून नॅशनल इन्स्टिटयूट ऑफ टेक्नॉलॉजी करणं असो, भारताची औषधनियंत्रण विषयक यंत्रणा बदलायची असो की, भारताच्या पेटंट कायद्यात बदल करायचा असो या सर्व समित्यांच्या अध्यक्षपदी माशेलकरच हवेत असं त्यांनी आग्रहपूर्वक सांगितलं.

३ जानेवारी २००० रोजी अटलजींनी इंडियन सायन्स काँग्रेसचं पुण्यात उद्घाटन केलं. जवळजवळ ५००० शास्त्रज्ञ त्याला हजर होते. नोबेल विजेते शास्त्रज्ञ आले होते. डॉ कलामांसारखे शास्त्रज्ञ ही आले होते. पुण्यातील त्या सायन्स काँग्रेसची अजून लोक आठवण काढतात. या सभेत अटलजींनी एक अत्यंत प्रेरणादायी घोषणा केली. ‘जय जवान, जय किसान, जय विज्ञान.’ तेव्हा सर्व सभागृहात टाळ्यांचा प्रचंड कडकडाट झाला.
माझं अध्यक्षीय भाषण होतं ‘नवं पंचाशीलः नव्या सहस्रकासाठी’ ते पंचशील होतं बालकेंद्रित शिक्षण , स्त्रीकेंद्रित परिवार, मानवकेंद्रित विकास, ज्ञानाधिष्ठित समाज आणि नवसर्जनशील भारत. बालकेंद्रित शिक्षणाचा मुद्दा मांडताना मी माझ्या मुंबईतील युनियन हायस्कूलमधील भावे सरांनी केलेल्या प्रयोगाचा उल्लेख केला आणि त्यामुळे माझं सार आयुष्य कसं बदललं याबद्दल बोललो होतो.

उद्घाटनाचा समारंभानंतरच्यावेळी भोजन होतं. त्यावेळी अटलजींबरोबर मी आणि दोन नोबेल विजेते असे आम्ही एकत्र होतो. प्रोफेसर मेनन, डॉ. कलाम, शरदराव पवार होते. माझ्या भाषणातील भावे सरांच्या नावाचा उल्लेख सर्वांना भावला . पण नोबेल विजेते लेन व अर्नस्ट म्हणाले की असे शिक्षक युरोपमध्येही दिसत नाहीत. अटलजी माझ्याकडे वळले आणि मला म्हणाले, ‘माशेलकरजी आपको पता है की, आजकल भावे सर क्यों नही दिखते हैं?’ मी म्हटलं, ‘नही सर’. तेव्हा अटलजीं म्हणाले ‘क्योंकी आज उनको समाज में प्रतिष्ठा नहीं है’. केवढे अर्थपूर्ण उद्गार होते ते ! नंतर मला कळलं की अटलजींचे वडील शिक्षक होते. म्हणजे हे अनुभवाचे बोल होते.
अटलजींच्या मनातील ही खंत दूर करणं, त्यांना अभिप्रेत असलेला सन्मान पुन्हा शिक्षकांना मिळवून देणं किंवा तसा सन्मान समाजाने शिक्षकांना द्यावा अशा क्षमतेचे अध्यापक घडवणं ही त्यांना वेगळी आदरांजली ठरेल.

अटलजींनी एक दुसरी आठवण आहे. ११ में १९९८ रोजी सी.एस.आय.आर च्या ४० प्रयोगशाळा प्रमुखांची बंगलोरमध्ये वार्षिक परिषद होती. त्याच दिवशी एन ए एल या आमच्या प्रयोगशाळेने तयार केलेल्या चार आसनी ‘हंसा’ विमानाचं पहिलं उड्डाण झालं. दुपारी बातमी आली की डी.आर.डी.ओ. ने ‘त्रिशूल’ या मिसाईलचं पहिलं उड्डाण केलं होतं. आणि संध्याकाळी बातमी आली की पोखरण मध्ये भारताने अणुचाचणी घेतली ! त्यानंतर जूनमध्ये अटलजींच्या हस्ते दिल्लीत शांती स्वरूप भटनागर पारितोषिक वितरणाचा समारंभ झाला. मी व डॉ. मुरली मनोहर जोशी अटलजींच्या उजव्या व डाव्या बाजूला बसलो होतो. आम्ही दोघांनी अटलजींना भारताने एकाच दिवशी तीन वेगवेगळ्या क्षेत्रांत केलेल्या प्रगतीचं महान प्रदर्शन एकाच दिवसात ११ मे ला कसं घडलं हे सांगितलं. आम्ही त्यांना सुचवलं कीं आपण ११ मे हा ‘टेक्नॉलॉजी डे’ म्हणजे ‘तंत्रज्ञान दिवस’ म्हणून साजरा करूया. त्यावेळी त्यांनी कांही उत्तर दिलं नाही. ते भाषण करायला उठले. आपलं भाषण वाचलं, कागद खाली ठेवले. आणि त्यांनी ११ मे हा ‘टेक्नॉलॉजी डे’ म्हणून घोषित केला. गेली वीस वर्षे हा दिवस साजरा होतो आहे. यांत विशेष म्हणजे त्यांनी त्यांच्या हृदयाचा आवाज ऐकून ही उत्स्फूर्तपणे घोषणा केली.

कार्यक्रम संपला आणि आम्ही चहापानासाठी चालत दुसऱ्या एका मंडपात चाललो होतो. अटलजीं माझ्याकडे वळले आणि मला म्हणाले ‘ अणुचाचणी झाल्यावर अमेरिका लगेच निर्बंध आणतील तंत्रज्ञानावर तसेच काही, निवडक उपकरणांवर. त्याचा आपणा सर्व शास्त्रज्ञांवर काय परिणाम होईल?’ मी त्यांना म्हटलं ‘सर, अमेरिकेने काहीही निर्बंध घालू देत. जोपर्यंत आम्ही शास्त्रज्ञ आमच्या मेंदूवर निर्बंध घालत नाही तोपर्यंत अमेरिका आपलं काही बिघडवू शकत नाही’. अटलजी जोरात हसले. थांबले. माझा हात आपल्या हातात घेऊन म्हणले “शाब्बास माशेलकरजी. याच भावनेनें आणि ऊर्जेने तुम्ही काम केलंत तर भारताला काहींचं चिंता नाही”.

तिसरा प्रसंग मला आठवतो तो २६ सप्टेंबर २००३ चा. हा सी.एस.आय.आर चा साठावा स्थापना दिवस होता. सी.एस.आय.आर ने एक पानभर अगदी वैशिष्ठ्यपूर्ण जाहिरात दिली होती. संबंध मोकळं पान त्यावर फक्त एका बोटाचा फोटो त्या बोटावर होतं मतदान केल्यावर लावलेल्या काळ्या शाईचा ठिपका. शाईचं तंत्रज्ञान तयार केलं होतं आमच्या एनपीएल या प्रयोगशाळेने. त्या पानावर एक वाक्य होतं. ‘सी.एस.आय.आर चं तंत्रज्ञान करोडो भारतीय मतदारांच्या बोटावर’.

अटलजींनी ही जाहिरात त्या दिवशीच्या वृत्तपत्रांत सकाळी पहिली होती आणि ती त्यांना फार आवडली होती. याचा त्यांनी आपल्या भाषणात उल्लेख केला. त्यांनी त्यांचं वाचायला दिलेलं भाषण बाजूला ठेवलं. आणि ‘ तंत्रज्ञान व लोकशाही ‘ या विषयावर उत्स्फूर्त भाषण केलं माझ्या आयुष्यात ऐकलेलं हे एक सर्वोत्तम भाषण म्हणेन.

तीन वेगवेगळ्या दिवसात पाहिलेली प्रेरणादायी , त्यांच्यासारखीच अगदी अटल अशी ही रूपं आजही डोळ्यासमोर लख्खपणे येतात. म्हणूनच मला वाटतं, अटलजी कायम आपल्यात आहेत! मी अटलजींची तीन वेगवेगळी रूपं. उत्स्फूर्त. निर्मल. संवेदनशील. भावपूर्ण. प्रेरणादायी. अटल.