New Delhi: Technocrats and scientists who have watched India progress from transporting rockets on bicycle carriers to launching moon reconnaissance satellites say technical collaboration with the US has undergone a radical transformation: from being a donor-recipient to a collaborator entitled to equal and mutual benefits.
This is most apparent in the case of agriculture. In the 1960s, under a US-India agreement, American scientists provided new wheat varieties that triggered the so-called Green Revolution in India.
“I think that was among the high points of Indo-US research collaboration,” said M.S. Swaminathan, who was closely associated with the programme. “But now the nature of such cooperation has changed.”
He added that many US firms have entered Indian agriculture because of the lure of vast sustainable markets.
For instance, Bt cotton, a genetically-engineered version credited with doubling India’s cotton yield and making the country a net exporter of the cash crop, was brought to the country by Monsanto Co., a leading US agriculture firm. Several other American companies such as DuPont Co. and Cargill Inc. have established their presence in India.
Over the past two decades, a parallel trend has played out in areas such as energy and high-technology equipment.
In the 1960s, the US pretty much set up entire power plants in India, rarely shared know-how and engaged in a limited exchange of scientists.
Now, with the Indo-US civil nuclear deal in place, several US nuclear companies are expected to engage with Indian nuclear scientists, share technology, and participate in the country’s plan to ramp up power generation capacity. In return, the US stands to gain access to a $120 billion market.
“Those days have considerably changed. Now if India needs technology, there are several vendors and we can buy only what we need,” said R. Chidambaram, principal scientific adviser to the Prime Minister. “There is certainly more say in how we guide our research.”
With India increasingly asserting itself on the world stage, experts say both countries face common challenges that can be solved by greater technology participation, even by India, in the US markets.
“We started out with BPOs (business process outsourcing) and now should be moving up the ladder. Our first steps should be (to) increase the quality of our manpower and, thereby, the sophistication and quality of our products,” said Sam Pitroda, adviser to the Prime Minister on public information infrastructure and innovations.
In September, officials from both the US and India—including T. Ramasami, secretary, department of science and technology, Pitroda and Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer, the White House—signed a commitment to ramp up cooperation in sectors such as power saving equipment, green buildings, e-governance, green manufacturing and low-cost mobile technology.
With common threats of climate change, there is a steadily emerging consensus that investments and trade in clean energy technology will significantly shape future relationship.