Since its independence, India has worked to develop a niche expertise in science and technology. This sector has significantly contributed to India’s economic development and government on both the local and national levels have focused on promoting it. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently prioritized science and technology as a growth area in the U.S.-India bilateral partnership, as seen during the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue.

Indian Minister of Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan spoke about India’s current science and technology initiatives, as well as the prospects for U.S.–India cooperation, at an event moderated by Carnegie’s Ashley J. Tellis.

Current initiatives:

  • Higher education: The Indian government has already significantly expanded the number of Indian Institutes of Technology and is setting up several research-focused equivalents, called Indian Institutes of Science, Engineering, and Research.

  • Scholarships: To incentivize students to pursue a higher degree in the sciences, the government is launching an ambitious $1 billion scholarship program, which is expected to create 6,000-7,000 new science PhDs in the next ten years.

  • Foreign universities: The Ministry of Science and Technology is pushing for a bill to finally allow foreign universities to operate in India.

  • Research: In addition to increasing research and development spending from 1 percent to 2 percent of GDP over the next seven years, the government is offering large financial incentives to the private sector to encourage research.

India’s resources:

  • People: India has a large pool of science and technology manpower, almost all of whom are also able to speak English.

  • Entrepreneurial skills: Indian-Americans have started more enterprises and created more jobs than any other immigrant community, and Indians also play a strong role in the hotel industry.

  • Value: The cost of intellectual labor in India, and thus the cost of innovation, is very low.

Potential areas for U.S.-India cooperation:

  • Energy and climate change: Like the United States, India desires cleaner alternative sources of energy, like wind, solar, and nuclear initiatives. In particular, to reconcile domestic access-to-electricity disparities, India wishes to expand its nuclear generation of power with the help of the international community.

  • Medicine: The United States and India both face looming healthcare and medical challenges. While India supplies over 30 percent of the world’s vaccines and generic drugs, the cost of these medicines must be reduced and the quantity increased, in order to better address disease. 

  • Space: Building on its first moon orbital mission, India’s Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would like to closely cooperate with NASA on a second moon mission, as well as on sending an Indian into space and on basic space research, such as remote-sensing technology.

India and the United States, Chavan noted, share common values which contribute to a natural bond between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest one. While the two countries may disagree on specific issues, such as patenting intellectual property, both face large challenges that can only be solved by science.  Cooperation, he concluded, is critical, especially at this moment, when the leaders of both countries have expressed their commitment to putting innovation at the top of their agendas.