‘COVID-19 is not over yet. We have to be future ready’ : Principal Scientific Adviser

Interview: Prof. dr. Ajay Kumar Sood, Chief Scientific Adviser, Government of India

Interview: Prof. dr. Ajay Kumar Sood, Chief Scientific Adviser, Government of India

Prof. dr. Ajay Kumar Sood, a Distinguished Professor of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, who took up the position of Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to the Government of India, says critical missions are now underway, as is the country that did. overcome three waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview with The Hinduhe talks about the need to be ‘future-ready’ with regard to the pandemic, why India’s mobility problems should not depend on imported technology and what the biodiversity mission entails.

Fragments from the interview

Can you tell us about the Bio-science for Human Health mission in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic?

It couldn’t have come at a better time. We are all sensitive to it. Two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us tremendous lessons and everyone is aware of the need for this mission. A DPR has been prepared and distributed for expert comments and inter-ministerial consultations. A concept memorandum has been drawn up for national policy. There are genetics and humanities initiatives from CSIR and DBT that have done tremendous work, such as the Unique Methods of Management and Treatment of Hereditary Disorders and the Genome India Project. All this needs to be integrated to ensure synergy between different stakeholders.

COVID-19 is not over yet. We must be ready for the future. We need to see what the future vaccination plan is and how we are prepared for an animal pandemic. Many things come from the animal world… They are connected. We need to think about preparing for a pandemic and see how we can integrate the one health system. I hope the PSA office comes up with a plan to work on this idea, because it cuts across the country.

What is the status of the National Biodiversity Mission?

These are very important missions, which were discussed in PM STIAC meetings almost three years ago. Then COVID-19 happened and it didn’t go as fast as it should. Now the Ministry of Expenditure has approved the mission in principle, but has also asked the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to make some changes so that there are no overlaps with the work of other ministries. Now the ministry is working on the DPR before the funds are released. We hope that the revised document will be submitted to the Ministry of Expenditure very soon. Then we’ll probably be on our way to launch the mission.

We are particularly concerned about national biodiversity: the loss of intact forests, which is a major problem; climate change and the pandemic, which put stress on the natural ecosystem, which threatens species, the natural ecosystem management of India, which comes under the control of states, etc. The transdisciplinary efforts need to be accelerated with a lot of plans. India has such a rich biodiversity, so conservation is key. The cost is quite high from an economic point of view. Natural services related to biodiversity have enormous economic implications. By some estimates, it amounts to 128 trillion per year.

What are the critical issues with electric vehicles (EVs)?

For EVs, there are many problems, such as batteries. Is lithium battery everything? Then we have to deal with the material problem. Where is so much lithium, cobalt that countries need? There’s a lot of R&D work to be done, but we can’t wait for that to happen and then launch EVs. They must run parallel. Battery is one aspect. Many people are switching to hydrogen-based systems. We have made some efforts.

The Department of Science and Technology will lead R&D. We need long-term solutions, and lithium and batteries don’t.

Immediate action is also needed when charging. Although it looks simple, we have no standardization. Standardization and innovation must go hand in hand, and the PSA has already done a lot of work on this. Low power charging station standards have been looked at as two and three wheelers are major markets in India. This came in through the Bureau of Indian Standards, which had notified the standards in 2021. For automatic charging of high-power connectors – quadricycles, buses, etc., the design is being prepared.

There is a lot of work to be done for futuristic batteries, and they should be made in India. Mobility problems cannot be based on imported technology.

What is the mandate of the AGNIi mission?

This is a collaboration between PSA and Invest India. We need to focus on Indian emerging technology capabilities and national targets in various fields. We need to empower technologies and startups to serve these goals. National priorities will create opportunities. This is a huge way forward. We currently have three specific mandates: AGNIIA will conduct pilot projects, deeper technology partnerships with individual ministries such as the waste-to-wealth project, and additional domains such as AI, robotics. The hope is that it will have a significant impact on the national objective front in the next two years.

How do we balance basic science and transaction science?

In our fear of translating alone, we must not lose sight of the fundamental science. If we’re just talking about transaction technology, you have to ask yourself, where will it come from in five years’ time? If you continue to depend on other countries to generate basic science, why won’t they commercialize it? We need to generate fundamental smart ideas. Not all basic science leads to technology tomorrow.

India must have three pillars: science, technology and solution. But science cannot be derivative science. Science is also a platform to ignite young minds. If science isn’t exciting and doesn’t get the imagination flowing, smart minds won’t come to science. That can happen if fundamental science is equally exciting. It’s all connected.

Technology also leads to good science. Now experimental science is so technology driven. We must not lose sight of basic science and hold it in high esteem in terms of discovery. You cannot innovate in the long run without discovery.

SOURCE – www.thehindu.com

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