By N. Sridhar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday woke up the IT fraternity with his clarion call for something like Google to happen out of India. He said innovations in areas like cyber security, innovation, connecting the nation, better use of social media, and cloud would bring down the digital divide but why not in a simple daily requirement for majority of Indians, who are chapati-eaters?
Here is a country of 120 crores of population, whose 60% people depend on daily roti but ironic that there is nobody who could make Chapati-making device for every home. Barring large-scale chapati-makers, nobody could think of a simple roti-maker for every household that would liberate half of the population, especially women, whose potential can be utilised in better productivity.
“Innovations should happen in this country and the government will adopt those innovations,” says Modi. “Perhaps the biggest challenge is to innovate… Why didn’t a Google happen out of India?”, said Modi but for an engineer it is insulting to say that he is into innovating a chapati-maker and our mindset is still capped with feudal British aristocratic incompetency. If the prime minister is serious, he would first ask a group of engineers to focus on a simple chapati-maker aided with modern IT, electronics and electrical knowledge that can save women and senior citizens.
The problem with us, Indians, is that we look at sky and forget the ground beneath our feet. We look at Google and forfeit our own basic requirements in search of similar over-night magic. We innovate cars as they have a global appeal but never focus on waste management in our neighbourhood that is staring back in the form of swine flu and avian flu.
Here are some challenges only Prime Minister can put before the country’s scientific and engineering think-tanks:
First and foremost, invent a simple home device that can make chapatis. In fact, some Indian-origin engineers in Singapore have come out with a Roti-Maker but for vested interests, the project was killed without a trace now. The enormous engineering community of this country cannot think simple, hence the divide between the rich and poor in terms of IT knowledge in the country. Unless we find applications of our enormous IT talent to simple solutions in daily life, we remain the poor cousins to our IT engineers excelling in their domain overseas.
Numerous research has gone into the waste management but why not our sapce scientists focus on exploring the blackhole research on waste management? ISRO can send mission to Mars and a man to Moon soon but fails to apply space science to our daily life requirements, except weather and communication satellites.
Not long ago, missile scientist APJ abdul Kalam rose to prominence in India not only for his missile mastery but also for making a light-weight material invented in DRDO available for the physically handicapped people in the country. It requires a genius to think both big and small to innovate for the common man. The scientific community should come out of its ivory tower mindset to see the reason to innovate solutions helpful in our daily life.
Storage of data, seemingly has driven the prime minister to appeal for another innovation in the IT field. Rightly so as it is a major challenge before the entire globally connected IT engineers and any solution makes sense. But corporates making progress in this direction are unlikely to share the knowledge with the governments due to their profit-and-loss dilemma.
Modi has also focused on cloud godowns and cloud locker. “Cloud locker is a huge opportunity,” he rightly pointed out but can we depend on our electrical engineers to provide non-stop electricity and maintenance to such storage installations withstanding the cyber-hackers? Very often, it is taken for granted that the basics should be taken care of in foreign institutions before we embark upon the fruits of such findings.
Another key area Modi has talked about is that cyber security should be driven emphatically to keep the faith of the common man even in mobiles. “It’s just not enough to be customers of innovation happening globally, it’s important to develop it as well,” he rightly said but the customers cushioned into enjoying fruits can barely look at the basics and it is too late to start from scratch.
On digital divide, the prime minister is not forthcoming on how he plans to rope in the rural women and agricultural labourers into the domain of cyber-community. For once, he should focus on spreading IT literacy in the villages with IT camps along with health camps and encourage village panchayats with funds tied to IT literacy camps as well.