PE: You have also played a direct role in executing science and technology policy, particularly in India. Why does the scientific
community tend to perform below potential in influencing the public policy agenda to create the stimulus that science and
technology provides to national development?
I agree that the scientific community often misses the opportunity to influence public policy. Science has to be judged on
the basis of relevance, as well as excellence. The public does not so much care for the conventional measurable outputs with
which scientists judge science, such as the number of scientific research papers, but they do care about practical outcomes
like the new jobs that are created. I believe scientists, with some notable exceptions, have not been sensitive to these realities.
Communication is a critical skill for any scientist. I always tried to tell the political leadership the impact of science
in a language that they understood. I remember once explaining to the Prime Minister of India how the creation of superior
varieties of menthol mint by the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants at CSIR had helped India displace China
as global leader in this sector, creating in turn thousands of new jobs in just a couple of years. In other words, a competitive
advantage fosters national development, and helps a politician get re-elected. This emphasis on the practical elements behind
the science helped CSIR increase its budget by almost a factor of three in real terms over the 10 years I led it. And the
12 high-powered "Mashelkar Committees" I chaired were reflective of the importance the government started giving to the scientists'
viewpoint in policy making.
PE: What has been the most engaging and successful assignment in your career to date, both in India and in the larger international
I can cite three engagements that have been the most rewarding. The first was my role as Director of the National Chemical
Laboratory during 1989-95. When I took over in 1989 (two years before India opened up and liberalized its trade economy),
reverse engineering and copying was the norm in the chemicals business. What I did was convert the National Chemical Laboratory
to an International Chemical Laboratory. For the first time, we committed to export Indian knowledge to the giant multinational
companies, building in turn a new spirit of confidence in the national laboratory system. Our rallying cry was "yes, we can"
and the guiding principle behind our work was "it's not the size of the budget but the value of the idea that matters." From
a syndrome of "publish or perish," NCL moved to a new paradigm: "patent, publish, and prosper." It was a politically risky
proposition at the time because Multinational was an unwelcome word, widely associated with colonialism and exploitation.
Nevertheless, NCL forged bold partnerships with leading foreign firms like GE, Du Pont, and Ciba-Geigy. Holding hands with
these global leaders meant that NCL had to run at their pace, and NCL did that—and more. Our success in showing that India
could innovate and compete at their level had a catalytic influence in the subsequent turnaround of the Indian science and
technology sectors into a fully globalized competitor.
My second most challenging assignment was the position as Director General of CSIR, the world's largest chain of publicly
funded R&D institutions, with 40 laboratories and over 20,000 employees here in India. When I took over, there was serious
doubt about the viability of spending public funds on a network like this. And there was scant coordination of effort: 40
laboratories moved in silos of their own making. What we did was to build "Team CSIR." When I ended my tenure after 11 years,
the transformation of CSIR was being touted as one of the top 10 achievements of Indian science and technology system in the
20th century. The CSIR transformation is today a textbook case of managing radical change for business school students across
the globe. It was cited as a model for institutional transformation by the World Bank.
Finally, my current service as the President of the Global Research Alliance is equally challenging. It requires leading 60,000
scientists from nine chains of institutions around a common objective. Our members include the leading research institutions
from South Africa (CSIR) to the US (Battelle Institute), Malaysia (SIRIM), and Germany (the Fraunhofer Institute). The Alliance
today has become a major knowledge partner in emerging reverse innovation economies like Vietnam.
PE: How important are Intellectual Property rights for a country like India in terms of promoting its innovation potential
A nation's ability to convert knowledge into wealth and social good through the process of innovation will determine its future.
In this context, issues of the generation, valuation, protection, and exploitation of intellectual property (IP) are going
to be critically important for India.
Exponential growth of scientific knowledge; increasing demands for new forms of IP protection as well as access to IP-related
information; the dominance of the new knowledge economy over the old brick-and-mortar economy; and complexities linked to
IP in traditional knowledge, community knowledge, and animate objects will all pose a challenge in setting a new IP agenda
relevant to the 21st century. India should no longer see IP as a self-contained technical domain, but rather as an effective
policy instrument that is relevant to resolving India's socioeconomic, technological, and political challenges. The development
of the competence to manage IP rights and leverage that influence is critical if India is to continue to grow in global competitiveness.