Skip to main content

This way for an empowered India

Empowering India: Ideas for Action by Scientists and Engineers; By Thalappil Pradeep and Krishnan Narayanan; Published by Indian Academy of Sciences and IIT Madras Alumni Association; 463 pages; ₹399

Ideas from science on building the India of the future.

The work of reimagining India is often left to politicians, economists, policymakers, and historians. Scientists have largely been silent on this. But here comes a book to break that silence. Empowering India: Ideas for Action by Scientists and Engineers, written by Thalappil Pradeep and Krishnan Narayanan, seeks to visualise India in this decade and beyond through the eyes of scientists and engineers. It delves into what professionals can do to help India achieve spectacular growth.

The two authors come from different backgrounds. Pradeep, who joined the faculty of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) about three decades ago, is now Professor of Chemistry and has been a part of the institute's growth. Narayanan, among other things, is the architect of Itihaasa Research and Digital, a digital archive of the oral history of India's information technology sector. He joined Infosys a little over two decades ago, and is the president of the IIT Madras Alumni Association, which has co-published this book with the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bengaluru.

The authors' rich experience in research and documenting the history of technology is reflected in this book as well. In this volume, which spans a wide spectrum of areas, they offer suggestions for empowering India along seven verticals: information and communications technology; sustainability; bioscience and biotechnology; research and technology development; innovation and entrepreneurship; academia-industry relations and alumni engagement; and education and skill development. The authors take a pragmatic approach to problems of sustainability, admitting that while a modified consumption pattern showing a drastic reduction, especially in developed countries, is at the root of the solution, it is not an easy path. The focus should be on developing technological breakthroughs that address and overcome the adverse side effects of over-consumption.

The book gives a sense of how professionals can contribute to help India achieve spectacular growth.

For instance, they point out that clean drinking water is not only a sustainable development goal, it is a basic right. And part of the problem in enforcing this right is poor distribution systems. They also emphasise the importance of working with the people, pricing and policy development in attaining sufficiency in water use. On energy, they advocate engaging with stakeholders, developing transparent and clear goals and preparing future leaders with diverse perspectives.


The most salient aspect of the book is in the fifth section, where the authors offer 30 sets of recommendations on how to build the India of the future. Each of these carries interesting case studies that illustrate how this is being done in small ways. For example, a section on AI looks at IITM's Center for Computational Brain Research, outlining some existing issues and how these are being addressed by the centre. It points to the large gap in energy between the functioning of the brain and a computer running machine learning algorithms. How the brain packs so much computing into its small size, using little energy, is as yet an unsolved mystery.

The recommendations run over responsible AI, technology for healthcare, water management with digital technologies, interdisciplinary collaborations to effect these, low-carbon, lean construction, interdisciplinary biosciences education and much more, encompassing nearly half the volume.

The authors stress that poor distribution systems impede the basic right to clean drinking water.

The book will appeal to anyone interested in sustainable development and growth. To lighten what can be a difficult read, it carries illustrations and cartoons, some generated by OpenAI's DALL·E. One minor blemish in the otherwise perfect typography is the number of typos in the Tamil poem written by former President and aerospace scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Additionally, there may be a case for future editions of the book to provide greater representation to women engineers who have been educated in the Indian system and have notched up sterling accomplishments. 

These minor failings apart, the book is a compelling read for anyone wishing to participate in India's future growth story.


Search by Keywords, Topic or Author

© 2024 IIT MADRAS - All rights reserved

Powered by RAGE