That our country should move towards achieving technological self-reliance has been the proclaimed aim since the time of our independence. After about four decades of planned developments, we do not however appear to be anywhere near achieving this goal. Our dependence on imported technologies and know-how on the whole seems to be as strong as ever - in many cases, we seem to have only evolved ingenious ways of clothing imported technologies in Indian garments and labeling them as Indian. It is not just, the private industry that is collaboration -happy; most Central and State Government enterprises are still falling over each other in lining up for foreign collaboration. The user departments in the Government come up with ingenious excuses for importing technology - in the name of meeting international standards, in the name of field-proneness, in the name of immediate availability etc. Indeed, we seem to have indigenously evolved a whole technology of keeping out any new indigenously developed product from coming into the market! Whatever successes we have had in indigenous R&D efforts leading to production are largely confined to low-volume production areas such as space research, nuclear engineering, oil industry and the defense sector. Indigenous R & D is yet to make any significant effort in mass production areas, even though there seems to have been in recent times some progress on this score in a few areas such as telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, stainless steel consumer durable etc. The picture on the whole continues to be rather gloomy, and strong sense of dissatisfaction on this score is widely shared and openly aired from the top planners and policy makers right down to the level of working scientists and engineers.
Why then does indigenous technology continue to get short-changed in this manner? As always, the answer is quite complex and the faults are shared between the various actors coming into play, such as the R&D sector, the industry, the education and training sector, the policy making and funding agencies etc. In the following, an attempt is made to understand these issues and outline certain strategies that will help us in moving towards the cherished goal of technological self-reliance. The Electronics Sector has been taken to amplify and illustrate some of the points, as this happens to be the area of specialization of the authors. It is however more than likely that similar would be the situation in many other sectors as well.
In section we outline our understanding of what has been the major flaws with our indigenization efforts in modern technology so far. Section II gives some measures that need to be adopted to foster the growth of indigenous technology. Of paramount importance in this is the need to do our own design of the total system. This aspect is elaborated in section HI. We expand on these ideas with specific reference to the Electronics Sector in Section IV.
Ever since independence, we have had a declared policy of self-reliance in all sectors, and are committed to indigenous development of technology. Numerous R & D organisations and public sector industries have been set up to help in this process. These industries, even if they do not make profit, are supposed to be the basis of indigenous development. Towards this, the public sector companies have set up their JR & D wings, and to some extent, protection has been provided to them to help in this process. A number of premier educational institutions have also come up around the country to provide both the manpower to carry out this task as well 'as to carry out some of the R & D. It can also be- said that finances have not been too severe a constraint for these institutions.
But what has been the understanding of indigenisation? About 40 years ago, it was understood that we did not have the technological expertise required to be immediately self-reliant. The policy pursued, therefore, was to encourage collaborations which would lead to indigenous production. Both public sector and private sector industries were encouraged to enter Into collaboration with foreign companies for bringing in technology in key sectors. What this meant was that components would be purchased! from the foreign company along with the machinery and the assembly would be carried out in India. At the same time, an emphasis was placed on import substitution, where the local industry would strive to take up the in-digenisation of individual components that go into a system. Starting with the CSIR system, an elaborate network of R & D institutions in different areas were set up towards this goal. It was expected that within a certain period of time almost all the components that are required for the system would be indigenised leading to 100% indigenisation. This was indeed carried out in many public sector companies and to some extent in private sector companies. In some cases, the products were also improved somewhat and 'a few features were added. However, it is easy to find several industries (both in the public and private sectors) which did not at all bother about indigenisation of these components and continued the 100% Completely Knocked Down (CKD) assembly.
If the problem of indigenisation today was only to correct these errant industries, then it would be quite simple. But the problem, in fact, is more serious. By the time an industry which strived for import-substitution got near a situation of significant reduction in import, the imported technology had become obsolete. This was not an isolated case or an accidental event. If one carries out a study, one is likely to find that in almost all cases such collaborations lead to indigenous component manufacturing in a time-frame that makes the product obsolete. For example, in electronics, often the time-frame is in 5-years but the product becomes obsolete in this period. In heavy industries, it takes 15 years to carry out significant import substitution, but within these 15 years the technology changes significantly.
The end result is that one goes in for a fresh collaboration. And, if by now, the engineers have not got frustrated, yet another round of import substitution is attempted. There is also this cycle: the frustration and defeat of indigenisation pushes the country towards a policy of liberalisation of imports and promotion of CKD assembly. Import substitution is then frowned upon. This goes on for a few years when once again the self-respect of the country renders legitimate talk about indigenisation.
But what have the autonomous R&D institutions like CSIR labs, IITs and others been doing in such a situation? They have generally lacked a sense of direction. They have played minor roles in import-substitution. In fact, it is perhaps only here that they have had some successes to show. But this has not been a simple task either . Further, there have been sectors for which foreign technology has not been available for political reasons. These are sectors like defence, atomic-energy, and to some extent, space research. In these spheres, it was a question of the country's self-respect. Tremendous freedom from procedures (as compared to others) have been granted in these spheres and money has been poured in. In these spheres, we have carried out some design work and have developed our own systems and even components. It can be said that here we have not done badly. But a serious problem with this type of development is that too much protection has been given and too much money has been sunk in. Therefore, in general, these efforts (particularly in the defence sector) have been highly inefficient and wasteful with much more money going into development of a product than required and the product being too expensive. Our aim here is not to criticize these efforts, but to point out why such indigenous development does not get extended to other sectors in a national way.
Thus, R&D labs have a difficult problem. Their interaction with the industry has not been very smooth. Industry has got too used to CKD technology and collaborations. In such a situation the foreign partner not only provides all the design (or rather, assembly) documents, but also provides the complete details of packaging, etc. (In fact one does not even have to source components; even screws as well as the screw drivers are provided!) R&D institutions can hardly do to this, as they are normally geared to do what is called in electronics a "bread-board" design-Even if they do work on the ruggedisation required for a product, they are in no position to source all the components. On the other hand the industry puts little ef-fort in taking care of this. However, one cannot blame industry entirely. Lack of a component base in the country is a severe problem. When one tries to import components, the lack of volume become a serious handicap. And then the import procedures rarely help. It is normally easier and often cheaper to get clearance to import the whole system either in assembled or kit-form rather than getting individual clearances for importing hundreds of components from tens of sources.
Then there are other problems. Indigenous designs are sometimes rejected on the excuse of "reliability" - with reliability measured by an industry or user in terms of the number of years it had been installed already in the field! At other times, a user or industry demands a-"standard" without understanding what the standard is all about. Thus, often a foreign company's approach to the system's design is confused with specifications or standards, and at other times, a standard evolved in a different context is demanded of a product.
On top of, there seems to be a serious problem with policy-making bodies or funding agencies. It appears that they have not defined clear-cut goals and provided guidance to R & D institutions or to industries. Targets are set, but rarely are the details of the steps to reach targets worked out. Rarely have these steps been closely monitored. Every few years, policies also drift. These agencies see their task as disbursing funds in accordance with a general guideline. Active monitoring and coordination of the funded projects to achieve a meaningful objective is rarely ever done by these agencies.
How do we consolidate on the few positive developments of the past? Outlined below is a policy framework that we think is the road towards healthy indigenous technological development. The remainder of this article elaborates some of the points raised herein.
(a) Hierarchical approach to indigenous design
It is often stated that because our component base, or ancillary industry, is weak, we cannot design and develop electronic systems, erect plants, manufacture machinery, etc., or even modify and improve existing designs. In turn, our component industry lays the blame at the door of the materials industry. However, this does remind one of the story of the kingdom that was lost for want of a horseshoe!
The key to this problem lies in focusing our efforts simultaneously at all levels - , basic research, materials, components, sub-assemblies, and system engineering. The availability at each level of competent people, and money, will determine the strength of the effort. At any given point in time, however, whatever is needed from below that is not yet available locally in a cost-effective manner should be imported. The notion of "cost" here is not merely economic; it includes quality, reliability, and other such attributes. The economic cost should not be permitted to be high on account of poor production methods or bad design. In other words, although we should not use international prices alone as a yardstick, we should also not protect a product simply because it is indigenous even if it is expensive or shoddily made.
It is imperative that a concerted effort be made to develop and produce locally almost all the systems we need. By "system", we mean plant and machinery, telephone exchanges, communication equipment, vehicles, and the like. It is for these items, in fact, for which the import cost is very high, often ten times the import cost of the components used in the product. Also, it is system development that can support com-ponent or ancillary development. While the systems designed and produced locally may be dependent on imported components initially, the situation will change gradually, though it may never happen that all imports are done away with. The high cost of most "high-tech" items today is because they are of foreign design. Know-how does not come cheap.
(b) Manpower and competence
Do we have the manpower and competence to undertake the design of systems? The authors feel that the core, groups of competent people that can design products locally do exist now in most of the key areas. Some have even demonstrated that they recognise the importance of designing for productionisation (CDoT, for example). This aspect should be emphasized and the experience gained already in this should be drawn upon by everybody. These core people can also find enough competent support staff, with some difficulty, to successfully complete the job. And the only way this support base can grow is by getting on with the job.
There is no point in setting up science and technology institutions if they do not train people with national goals in mind. Except for a few people who may work for Science in the abstract, everyone else must be trained for furthering national development. Design and product development must be emphasized. Needless to say, the overall quality of technical education must be greatly improved.
(c) R & D Infrastructure
It must also be stated that expensive R&D infrastructure is not needed to develop many of the systems. We find in the past that expensive investments in test and design equipment have often been made by groups that did not deliver the goods. In fact, plush laboratories become a cover for shoddy R&D. Even if a working model is developed, it is so inefficiently designed that it is difficult to productiohise and the cost is many times the landed import cost of the product with duties!
(d) Standards and product specification
Often, we blindly follow so-called "international" standards. While there is no denying the need to follow standards in order to ensure compatibility, we should define our own standards after going into the merits of each. Very often, a so-called standard is nothing but the design specification of a foreign product. Setting up such standards’ achieves nothing except aiding import.
The emphasis must shift to design initio: we must design each product ourselves. We have to then make a prototype, ruggedise the system and then productionise it. We have to either make the components ourselves or import the components, and carry out our own tests, diligently setting up specifications and our own standards as needed. Of course, where necessary for comparability, we should conform to international standards. We must design systems that are in no way inferior to those made elsewhere in the world.
But what difference does indigenous design make ? And why do we think this can be done successfully at this point in our country's development? What are the problems and pitfalls and how do we avoid them ?
First let us emphasize the importance of design. Design is the key element in product development. It is not just the first step in the development of a product, but is in itself an educational process, a process that provides the experience required to tackle new problems and provide the basis for new concepts and im-proved products. Of course, the design must be carried out specifically for a product and design itself must not become an occupation(as it often does in several of our labs). For, design activity which does not lead to products is not going to serve any purpose, not even an educational purpose. In other words, the design of a product and efforts required to realise it into a product are key aspects of human-resource-development in technology. We have totally missed this and instead have started believing that acquiring a degree alone completes the education. Development of the capacity to design ab initio must become an integral objective of engineering education.
Designing and developing our products ourselves will also mean that we will not have a set of incompatible products that we have acquired as a result of multiple collaborations with different companies. Adding features, changing them according to changing requirements, and developing the next-phase products will not be a problem. Moreover, such products will invariably cost us much less. As it stands, the cost of an electronic system, for example, is about 150 - 200% more than the cost of the components in most mass- produced consumer items (like TV etc.) whereas it is about 500 - 1000% more in the case of special systems like telecommunication equipment.
But what makes one think that we are in better position to design and develop our products today? Have we not talked about complete indigenous development earlier? We believe that we have never seriously tried this earlier. Our two hundred years of enslavement had taken the initiative from us. It takes time for in-dependence to assert itself. We may have talked about indigenous design etc., but in practice we chose collaborations. The time has come to stop collaborations and redefine indigenous development and self reliance. We never had a clear-cut policy of promoting such development. At best we said that "in the meanwhile let us continue collaboration". What is required today is to take a stand that no collaborations should be permitted in at least a few sectors. This may lead to some confusion for a few years but the policy must be clear- cut and there must be a national consensus on it. A half-hearted effort will only weaken us. We also cannot take the stand of permitting collaborations even on a limited basis for "just a few products" in a sector. We have' to take up an entire sector and go the whole hog. Any product-wise effort will be defeated by the multinationals.
How do we go about this? Here, we discuss primarily the electronics sector, though we feel that our statements are applicable elsewhere two. The steps that we believe must be taken up maybe outlined as follows:
(i) There must be emphasis on time-bound and cost-conscious development. But we must not set up unrealistic targets, for once false targets are set which are not met, laxity develops.
(ii) We must combat the "we needed the product yesterday" syndrome.
(iii) There has been an over-emphasis on costly foreign equipment, and on tests and standards of foreign origin. We must clearly understand the implications of continuing the use of such standards and specifications.
(iv) Clear goals must be set by the government departments charged with R & D. They must define the scenario. The scenario must be put in non-technical language such that the people can understand and debate it. The people defining the goals must be induced to feel accountable.
(v) A community of scientists and engineers must be established who interact with each other. Senior people should not be given leadership only because of their seniority. Every effort must be made to ensure that rampant cynicism does not destroy the formation of such a community.
(vi) Import policy must be clearly spelt out such as to help indigenisation; foreign exchange earning cannot be an aim in itself and must not oe used to block indigenisation.
(vii) Careful controls, and a commitment from the industry for indigenous development, are necessary. Under no situation should we allow hidden collaborations (e.g. a company imports CKD kits and hides the design cost in components).
Let us elaborate further taking the example of the Electronics sector.
Development in the field of electronics can be divided into 3 parts:
These are discussed briefly below.
Development of Systems
The systems include all end-products including consumer electronic products, telecommunication systems, control systems and computers and peripherals. The system design cost constitutes between 100 to 500% of the component cost depending upon the volume of production and the level of competition. Thus, system design is a very important part of the total product. The systems today are largely designed with general-purpose components available from multiple sources. However, custom-built components are being increasingly used today. These custom-built components are mostly gate-array IC's designed for each specific system. A system design would include design of these application-specific IC's. Development of some software for the specific product may also be needed. The system design would also include this.
Today, it would not be too much of an over-statement if one were to say that we in India have by-and-large the capability to design all kinds of systems. We may get stuck here and there due to some special proprietary component not being available to us, but then we should look for alternative approaches to meet our requirement and question closely how important such a system requiring specific proprietary components is for us. The import or collaboration of such a system must be made a rare exception.
Development of Components
The development of systems is predicated on a good component base. Unfortunately, the availability and production of components in our country is in a very bad state. We produce almost no ICs. Even the connectors that we produce are poor in quality and very expensive. We do not produce good bread-boards or IC bases. Even the resistors and capacitors that we produce are expensive. The importance of development of components in our country was recognised more than 20 years ago. But our efforts so far have produced poor results.
The development of components in India has to be taken as a mission with various intermediate targets. Production of components require a large market. If our system design and development takes off, it can provide a sufficient market for our components. The point is that components must be produced with cost in mind. This would happen only if we look for alternative machines and even materials instead of depending on import of the whole technology. For example, while efforts are being made to obtain 2-3 micron technology from abroad spending Rupees 100 crores or more, there is no reason why we cannot set up several IC production facilities using 5/10 micron technology indigenously. Without attempting to indigenously set up such a facility, we will forever continue to depend on imported -technology that is not easily obtainable. There are already some systems that we are totally designing ourselves (for example design’ of Electronic Switches by CDOT). Since these systems will be required in large numbers, one could take up indigenous development of components required by these systems immediately.
Development of Materials
The basis for good components lies in proper development of materials. This is another area where we have performed poorly. Here again a mission-type approach will be required. Material processing is an art in which Indians have excelled for centuries. But "in recent times we have lost our bearings. Once again, one of the problems is our total dependence on imported instruments and systems and complete adoption of their approach for processing.
But where I do we start? Our system development suffers due to lack of component base, and our component development suffers due to non-availability of indigenous materials. What do we do first? It is clear that a breakthrough in any one can create the environment for the other to prosper. In other words, efforts have to be made in all these fronts simultaneously without waiting for the "other" to develop "first".
Breaking this circle calls for certain changes in the attitudes governing policy formulation/ R&D funding accountability norms etc, and fresh initiates are required on all these fronts. Some of these are briefly touched upon in the remaining part of this paper
But how do we develop systems today without import of components? Well we have to import components either not made at all or not made well in our country What should be' done is to short list a set of components that all designers will strive to use in their development. This is a very delicate and important job - if not handled properly, it can destroy system development. Yet this delicate job has to be dohe. These set of components should be obtained (if necessary first by import) and be made available easily. However, to ensure that this selected list does not become a hurdle in system development, easy import of other components for R & D must be allowed. A component made in India, once its quality is good and price reasonable, must not be allowed to be imported even with penal duty.
The import policy of the Government should be clearly geared to promote indigenous development. Thus, it makes no sense at any stage when components that are not made in India have higher duty than the imported system made using the components. It makes little sense to have different duties imposed on two different components (like ICs), when both are not manufactured in India. Unfortunately, such a policy has been followed in the recent past.
What should the policy be towards import of electronic systems? If the requirement is likely to be very few in number, and it does not involve very high cost and if we decide not to make the system in India at all, import is acceptable. Also, import of systems for R & D may be allowed. But here one must note that quite often our R&D establishments have imported a large number of very expensive and mostly useless equipment. The role of such expensive equipment for indigenous development has often been overemphasized. One must counter this trend. Import of systems which we want to make ourselves should be discouraged in all possible ways. A reasonably high duty should be put on such systems to allow indigenous development to flourish. But one must warn here of over-protection which can lead to inefficiency and very high cost of the indigenous system. How much duty should be levied will differ from product to product, depending on the stage of indigenous development and the volume of our requirements.
CKD assembly and collaborations have to be heavily discouraged with a high disincentive tax. It must be noted here that quite often a company enters into collaboration with the foreign company for CKD assembly. The design cost is however included in the components. The Indian company then claims it has indigenously developed the product and only wants to import components. A component-cost data-bank for clearance of such imports is a must. Or, an expert panel may be asked to certify that the cost is competitive. Companies once found to be paying an inflated cost for components must be thoroughly investigated. Also, many companies just change names to import components which are otherwise not allowed (or made in India). Serious checks of these are a must to discourage CKD assembly The idea of canalizing import of components through an agency like ET & T is a good one. However, time delays, very limited component availability, and, at times, high cost severely limits such an effort. How can one make such an effort function? This needs some thinking. If a system can be evolved, it could be used for indigenous development.
R&D Funding and Personnel
Our policy-making bodies like the Department of Electronics(DOE) have failed miserably in promoting indigenous development. Such bodies must define scenarios for one, two, five, ten, and twenty years respectively. They must put down steps to achieve such scenarios, and define projects towards these steps. And alf this must be presented in a non-technical language so that our people can understand it, debate on it and monitor it. The performance of such bodies must be evaluated with respect to these targets. Accountability must be the key(for example if expensive equipment are purchased they must be clearly justified). If our auditors pay a little more attention to this kind of audit rather than only on whether specific rules have been followed for purchase etc., they may do a significant service to our country.
The accountability of our scientists must be emphasized. Foremost, indigenous development should be made the goal that scientists and engineers of our country must strive! for. Their commitment cannot be to some abstract "Science" but to the nation. The so-called basic research and education will have a place, but thousands of scientists can not hide behind this. It must be remembered that 'basic R&D' can only flourish in an environment where science and technology is oriented towards development. As part of these efforts, it is necessary that scientists in India first relate to each other and then only to foreign scientists. The results of projects taken up by scientists must be put in a language understandable by and examinable by the whole scientific community as well as by others. One must not hide behind specialization.
R & D personnel are the key to indigenous development. Throughout this article we have pointed out various difficulties that they face in this country. Rather than take refuge behind such obstacles and plead helplessness, the R&D personnel must curie forward and face the challenges in functionalizing their context and put up demonstrable performances.
Role of Industry
What is the role that Indian industry must perform? It is imperative that they develop the ability to ruggedise and productions a lab prototype without stumbling much. We often blame a public sector industry for its inefficiency. We must remember that they pay their workers (like soldering hands) about four times more than many private industries and get much less work out of them. On top of it, they often purchase in the open market at prices much higher than the private sector. They also pay import duty, excise duty, sales tax much more honestly than the private industries. This explains why the cost of many systems and components produced by them is so much higher. An understanding of this is important be-cause both public and private industry are expected to play an important role in indigenous development effort.
Forty years after independence, we have the third largest scientific and technological manpower in the world. While this may in itself be an achievement, it has contributed little in making us technologically independent. The time has come to relook at our technology policy and work out how in the next 5 to 10 years we can achieve self-reliance in technology to a significant extent. We hope this paper can start a debate towards this purpose.
* To cite an example, recently a large public sector undertaking designing control systems went in for collaboration with a Japanese company. The R&D labs were then asked to indigenise the communication link being used in the system. When asked about the protocol that the Japanese system was using, the public-sector company said that it does not have the protocol and since it is a proprietary item, the foreign collaborator cannot provide it. It would have been a relatively simple task to design the whole system. However, the industry had already gone in for collaboration. While this may be an extreme example, R&D labs are often encountered with such problems.