View: How is India living its 'technology moment'?
ETtechIs India really at a technology crossroads? The answer, surely, is yes.
This perhaps leads to more questions than answers, particularly because the nature of the technology leap (as opposed to leapfrogging) that India is experiencing is yet to be documented in a manner that can undo established wisdom of industrial revolutions either in the West or the East.
The Unesco Science Report from 2021 suggests that in purchasing-power-parity terms, India now spends more on research than France, the UK and Italy. The same report said there is observable lethargy in these countries, and in Japan. While China is converging with the US, Germany and South Korea continue to demonstrate a strong appetite for innovation.
The government of India often projects achievements derived from its initiatives that have scaled up technology adoption in India. I believe the sum is more compelling than the aggregation of parts.
India logs the highest number of real-time digital payments globally and has left China and advanced countries far behind. India enabled the Aaddhar-based JAM trinity, followed by UPI and the digital health stack. The country is now exploring the extremely ambitious Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) and Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood – the DESH-Stack eportal – which have the potential to deliver services to citizens and businesses quickly and efficiently.
India’s efforts on technology are increasingly embedded in wider capacity-building that’s directly contributing to knowledge creation in the short run, offering viable economies for departments beyond science ministries to aggressively explore technological opportunities.
None of these would have been possible without indigenous capabilities being re-ignited in recent years with stronger public-private partnerships in knowledge creation. Creating space for individual ingenuity to flourish through startups and knowledge networks has been backed by important reforms.
Citizens and small businesses increasingly appreciate the benefits of digital technologies, which are becoming more affordable. India, as the pharmacy of the world, has produced cheap generic medicines for decades and supplied them domestically and internationally.
Creating more value requires further resource mobilisation and internal adjustments within the sectoral innovation ecosystem. India indigenously developed and manufactured vaccines and ventilators to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than two billion doses administered.
As is well known, India is a major hub of vaccines and is drawing international attention for its public policy, market and regulatory mechanisms supporting research and commercialisation of vaccines.
The International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure are other valuable initiatives catalysed by India.
What has perhaps been India’s most successful initiative in recent times is the enabling of large-scale deployment of digital technologies to tackle development challenges and trigger investments in renewable energy paraphernalia, from green hydrogen to energy storage.
While industrialised countries seem to have resorted to industrial policies with great vigour in recent times, careful implementation of India’s own production-linked-subsidy schemes — from semiconductors to EVs and advanced chemistry cells — will facilitate greater private sector participation in R&D and foster technology collaborations through joint ventures.
As per media reports, Ola Electric is investing $500 million in R&D and its focus on cell innovation suggests an increasing appetite for R&D among industry players.
Supplementing efforts by the government, such private-sector investment in R&D would offer significant opportunity for India if they are aligned with India’s long-term needs. It is increasingly being acknowledged that India’s affordability-driven technological solutions across sectors generate positive externalities beyond its borders.
From the perspective of R&D and innovation pipelines, global partnerships for knowledge co-creation will remain relevant despite domestic efforts. Emerging challenges are all of global character and technological solutions are emerging from disparate sources.
Innovation systems of the earlier vintage, those found costly by several developing countries, are being replaced with more democratic structures that need to be supported with appropriate incentive and regulations.
India can show the way in that regard, with policy innovations taking shape through engagements at multiple levels between different arms of the government and an array of technology stakeholders, including businesses, startups, social entrepreneurs, community institutions and, above all, citizens.
The author is an associate professor at RIS

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