Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Delivering Affordable Innovation through Scientific Excellence



19th of April is a historic day for India’s space mission. On this day, 42 years ago, ISRO launched the first Indian satellite Aryabhata. Indigenously designed and fabricated in India, Aryabhata was, to paraphrase the legendary Neil Armstrong, “one small step for ISRO, one giant leap for India’s satellite technology.” 

That India’s maiden satellite was named after the legendary astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata, is only befitting. In the 5th Century B.C., Aryabhata successfully calculated the diameter of the earth and the moon, proposed that the earth rotated on its axis and determined the value of Pi up to the fourth decimal place, among other things. It is this deep knowledge of advanced maths and science that made India the global knowledge hub of the ancient world, drawing scholars from distant lands to its universities at Nalanda and Taksashila.

Centuries later, in 1947, while delivering his historic “tryst with destiny” speech our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru referred to the need of leveraging India’s historic connect with science and technology for the task of nation building.

Two decades later in 1969, when Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the founding father of India’s space program, took charge of ISRO, he made an inspiring statement which was prophetic… “There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation... But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”

As a developing economy, India’s budget for space science was modest, which evoked a lot of scepticism about our country’s capability. Even today, ISRO has a budget which is a tenth of NASA, yet it has propelled India into a leadership position in space research.

ISRO’s soaring achievements may have taken the world by surprise and what’s more, they have demonstrated India’s potential to drive ‘affordable innovation’ that can deliver high value with frugal resources.

Thanks to ISRO, what India has achieved in space technology is not only world class, it is world beating! India has been able to scale the heights of success driven by a scientific team on a “mission mode” led by inspirational leaders like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan, Prof. U.R. Rao, Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Shri G. Madhavan Nair, Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, Shri A.S. Kiran Kumar and Dr M Annadurai!

The legendary Dr APJ Abdul Kalam had also contributed to the scientific excellence of this great institution. He drove India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle program (SLV-III) and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project during his two-decade association with ISRO.

Today ISRO is proof of what inspirational leadership can achieve with frugal resources!

Just two months ago, ISRO helped India script history by successfully launching a record 104 satellites into orbit using a single rocket, beating the previous record of 37 satellites deployed by Russia in 2014.

ISRO: Championing Affordable Innovation

Forty-two years ago when ISRO launched Aryabhata it had to start from scratch as India lacked the kind of sophisticated infrastructure that Western nations had. Aryabhata was built in a period of 30 months by a young team of scientists and engineers at a project cost of a little more than Rs 3 crore.

In the succeeding four decades, ISRO has stuck to its philosophy of ‘affordable innovation’.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission was without doubt the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken since Martian exploration began. ISRO designed, built and launched the Mangalyaan space probe for US$74 million, which is nearly a tenth of NASA’s Mars probe Maven! It was even cheaper than the US$100-million spent in producing the Hollywood space drama Gravity! As our Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi had pointed out, the 650 million km journey to Mars cost India a mere Rs 7 per kilometre, less that a Rs 10 per km auto ride in Ahmedabad! The frugality of its Mars orbiter notwithstanding, India stunned the world when it became the first nation ever to have succeeded in reaching the Red Planet in its maiden attempt!  This was indeed a phenomenal milestone which saw every Indian bursting with pride. 

Navigation with Indian Constellation, or NAVIC, the program that put India among the elite group of nations to have their own satellite navigation systems, was also a feat of cost-effective space engineering! At US$350 million, India spent less money on their entire satellite navigation network than the cost overrun of Galileo, the European satellite navigation network project!

Even ISRO's 2008 Moon Mission, Chandrayaan I, at a cost of ~US$100 million, was a feat in itself considering no other country had succeeded in executing a lunar mission for less than US$500 million. More importantly, ISRO’s affordable innovation succeeded in collecting data that confirmed the presence of water on the moon!

ISRO: Breaking the Colonial Mindset

By championing the ‘Innovate in India’ mantra, ISRO has boosted our self-belief as a nation. For too long, we have been prisoners of a colonial mindset with low levels of confidence in our own capabilities which has led us to look at the West for scientific validation.

Through its pursuit of excellence, ISRO has created a powerful and formidable brand for India, which is about leadership in science & technology and innovation excellence!

ISRO’s emergence as a frontrunner in the growing private space market has led countries like US, UK, Germany, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and several others to seek India’s help for satellite launch services. It’s interesting to note that of the 180 foreign satellites launched by ISRO since 1999, more than half belonged to the US!

ISRO is today a byword for world-beating scientific excellence! It has helped India stake a claim as an exclusive member of the global space club. We are now ranked among the world’s top 6 space faring nations in terms of technological capabilities!

I remember that In the 1960s and 1970s every single scientist who wanted to pursue space research aspired to go to NASA. Only a few remained in India and not by choice I may add. This exodus of Indian scientists is reflected in the large representation of people of Indian origin at NASA!

However, it is an entirely different picture today. The first choice for many of the current generation of Indian space researchers is ISRO! And I wouldn’t be surprised if we witness the return of a large number of the Indian diaspora at NASA so that they can be part of this great space mission that our nation has embarked on!

ISRO: Looking at Greater Private Sector Participation

As India’s space program gains momentum and stature, ISRO plans to increasingly outsource space science services to the private sector and ensure that its own scientists and engineers focus on space exploration and research.

While ISRO has a nearly 30-year-old partnership with the Indian industry, the private sector's contribution has largely been restricted to fabrication, testing and assembling. Under the banner of ‘Make in India’, ISRO is now entrusting Indian companies with the task of building rockets and satellites!

The push for greater private sector participation is also in sync with the larger efforts of ISRO to augment capabilities and tap the growing commercial market for space-based surveillance, remote sensing and telecommunication.

By collaborating with India Inc., ISRO can create a robust space industry which can carve out a bigger slice of the estimated US$300 billion-plus global civilian space market, leveraging India’s innovative, vibrant and tech savvy entrepreneurial ecosystem.  If Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s Space-X are dreaming big in terms of space tourism, so can Indian entrepreneurs.

Satellites Can Help India Leapfrog into a Digital Future

Today ISRO is helping India address several socio-economic and developmental needs of the country using space technology.  ISRO has already taken the benefits of the space technology to the remotest of Indian villages to address the basic needs in education, health, nutrition, and drinking and irrigation water.

Going forward, ISRO’s satellites can play a big role in realizing India’s aspiration of transforming itself into a country empowered by digital technologies.

It took 20 years for India to have the first 100 million Internet users, but the next 100 million users will come in less than three years. To cater to rising demand, it is imperative to look beyond the traditional modes of internet delivery to space-based solutions. Satellite internet can provide an economical solution to most of the challenges faced by ground infrastructure like optical fibres.

In fact, satellite-based Internet systems can prove more effective at distributing Internet broadband capacity over a large area as well as reduce congestion in already overloaded networks, thus improving the quality of service provided by mobile networks.

Space-based technologies can be integrated into 5G systems to help take advanced Internet of Things (IoT) applications to regions that are beyond the reach of terrestrial networks.

Going forward, ISRO plans planetary exploration missions, a reusable launch vehicle, and a program to send astronauts into space in the coming years.

Space science is going to be a new industrial sector for India. This can be a differentiated ‘Make in India’ story with high scientific skills and technological capabilities. This will open up huge demand for scientific and engineering skills, creating new jobs.

India's pursuit of cutting-edge space technologies, which had started off as a national mission is now becoming a large national enterprise, with the potential to spur sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

 Biocon’s Journey of Affordable Innovation for Global Impact

When I reflect on my own entrepreneurial journey, I find lot of parallels between ISRO’s march to the forefront of global space exploration and Biocon’s ambition to become one of the most recognized Indian names in the global biotechnology sector.

I am very proud that our company is today considered to be among the world-beating innovators in biopharmaceuticals.

As a pioneering biopharma enterprise, Biocon has been among the first in India to invest in developing recombinant DNA and bio-processing technologies that can deliver innovative and affordable biologics. We have focused relentlessly on chronic disease spaces like diabetes, cancer and autoimmune conditions, marked by unmet needs. Our mission is to develop drugs that can be labelled “blockbusters” not because they can earn a billion dollars but because they are affordable enough to benefit a billion patients!

Like ISRO, we have leveraged India’s value advantage of unmatched scientific talent and cost-competitive manufacturing to deliver scale, speed and quality. We have indigenously developed innovative technologies, which offer us a global competitive edge. We have adopted a business mantra of ‘highest quality at the lowest cost.’

Just as ISRO has made transformational impact through space technology, my company, Biocon, has harnessed the potential of Biotechnology to make a huge difference through affordable insulins, and cancer drugs for the benefit of patients the world over.

ISRO & Team Indus: Working to Put India on the Moon

ISRO’s triumphs in space science have fired up the best and the brightest minds in India to contribute to this emerging narrative of technical and scientific excellence. This is evident from an innovative start-up venture, Team Indus which is attempting to create space history by becoming the first private enterprise in the world to not only build and land a spacecraft on the moon but have a rover ride the surface.

What is equally interesting is how India is approaching the unfolding ‘Moon Race’ by following a dual strategy of a state-funded program in the form of Chandrayaan 2 and a privately-funded moonshot via Team Indus. It is an exciting model of private-public partnership that augurs well for ushering in a whole new and exciting era for space exploration.

Team Indus is scheduled to launch its lunar probe this December on board ISRO’s extended Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle to the moon. It has benefited immensely from its collaboration with ISRO’s scientists who had worked on Chandrayaan 1.

Interestingly, ISRO is also planning to launch Chandrayaan 2 early next year, which includes a large rover to carry out several significant scientific experiments on the moon.

Team Indus is the only Indian team competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which is a global competition to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.

I firmly believe that a win for Team Indus will be a win for India as this pioneering entrepreneurial effort in space research can inspire scores of others and be the cornerstone of success for India on the world stage.

Women Scientists to the Fore

When India was celebrating the success of its first Mars mission, I was very excited to see the smiling faces of the women scientists of ISRO being splashed all over the media. It was a watershed moment as far as the Indian Space Program is concerned. But, more importantly, it shattered stereotypes about space research and Indian women.

I, myself, had to break many a gender barrier when I started Biocon in 1978 as a young, 25-year-old woman entrepreneur, with no business background and limited financial resources.

This kind of gender bias was not specific to India. Even in Western society, women scientists were pushed to the background despite playing a crucial role in science.

In is noteworthy that in the late 19th century, a group of women, known as ‘Harvard Computers’, helped process astronomical data for Harvard Observatory Director Edward Charles Pickering. In the 1960s, a team of African-American women mathematicians in NASA played a vital role in the US space program. Their stories would have remained untold had it not been for the book and the subsequent Hollywood film 'Hidden Figures' that are based on their extraordinary contributions.

Thankfully, that landscape is changing now as more and more women prove their mettle as engineers, mathematicians, and computer programmers. Scientific organizations are realizing the diversity of thought, creativity and innovation that women bring to the table and this is opening up more opportunities for women scientists.

That is why today we are seeing a large representation of women in the innovation ecosystem of India. One-third of the 3,000 entrepreneurial start-ups in the life sciences sector have been founded by women! Over 20% of ISRO's over 16,000 employees are women. In my company, Biocon, over 30% of the 4,000 scientists are women.

I believe, women are an integral part of the scientific community and at ISRO they have played key roles in the numerous successful missions of the agency. It gives me immense pleasure to see many women ISRO scientists to have become household names, today.

While Indian-origin space pioneers like Kalpana Chawla and Suneeta Williams have been an inspiration, many girls today are aspiring to follow in the footsteps of an Anuradha TK, a Nandini Harinath, a  Valarmathi or a Tessy Thomas!

Conclusion

Now that ISRO has built credibility through world-beating scientific excellence the path ahead towards global leadership is going to be extremely exciting.

ISRO has proven beyond doubt that it is not about the amount of money you invest but it is about the scientific conviction and passion that you display which can help you reach for the stars!

ISRO, is truly a shining example of ‘mind over matter’ that reflects that if you have the mental acumen of our scientists and engineers, then money doesn’t matter.

ISRO today invokes a sense of national pride for every Indian citizen. It’s an inspirational story of how self-belief and conviction can lead a nation to set new benchmarks in scientific excellence.

By championing cutting-edge space exploration and partnering with innovation-led start-ups in the private sector ISRO can create a starburst of advanced innovation for our country and our future!

- Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw


This 'Aryabhata Lecture' was delivered by Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw at ISRO Satellite Centre, Bengaluru on April 19th on the occasion of Satellite Technology Day.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Digital India Can Propel Us to Double-Digit Growth

Image Source: Google

The new fiscal year promises exciting opportunities for the Indian economy, which is scheduled to bring in a game-changing new reform in the form of the Goods & Services Tax.  Expectations of wider economic reforms, new measures to improve the ease of doing business in India and higher infrastructure investments also augur well for the prospects of economic growth of India, which is the fastest growing major economy in the world today.

Signals emanating from the global economy are also positive. According to economists, 2017 is witnessing synchronous recovery in global growth for the first time since the recession in 2010. Emerging economies remain the main driver of the strengthening global outlook, as they continue to contribute more than three-quarters of total global GDP growth in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund.

As conditions look favourable for the economy growing at a faster clip, it is time for India to revisit its aspirations of double-digit GDP growth. If we are really serious about achieving this growth pace, we need to focus on the mission of Digital India and leverage the transformative power of a technology-driven economy. 

Digital India Can Transform Lives & Boost Growth

We all know that India suffers from a huge infrastructure deficit. It is estimated that India’s infrastructure could require an investment of up to US$1.7 trillion by the end of the decade, as per the World Bank report.

Investing heavily on infrastructure has time and again proved to be one of the most successful recipes for accelerated economic growth. However, we also know it requires huge capital investment and has a long gestation period. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored for long. To leapfrog India’s traditional deficit in physical infrastructure, we need to urgently invest in building a strong Information & Communication Technology (ICT) backbone, which will present many unique opportunities by enabling businesses in the areas of financial services, education, healthcare, agriculture, retail etc. and will improve economic conditions in remote areas.  Above all, digital infrastructure growth can empower the government to embrace and enable innovation, provide resources to help increase agricultural productivity as well as enable universal healthcare access. It can also bring financial services to the unbanked rural and underprivileged communities and help fulfil the country’s longstanding goal of ‘education for all’.

Financial Inclusion

India, like the rest of the world, is witnessing a rapid adoption of digital payments. This is being driven by deeper mobile phone penetration, concerted policy action by the Reserve Bank of India and government initiatives like Aadhaar and Jan Dhan Yojana. Demonetisation has also given a decisive push to the adoption of digital payments.

As millions of these Indians adopt digital payment methods they will be able to connect to the formal financial sector as customers and suppliers. 

A report published by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) says increased use of technology in the realm of Financial Services could give 300 million Indians access to banking services by 2025 and raise their incomes by up to 30% thanks to better access to credit and the ability to save and make remittances.

Education

The McKinsey report also estimates that remote learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other digital systems could have an economic impact of US$ 60 billion to US$ 90 billion a year by 2025 thanks to higher productivity among a larger number of skilled workers. India could have about 24 million more high-school and college-educated workers and 18 million to 33 million more vocationally trained workers by 2025 as a result of digitization in the education sector.

Healthcare

Disruptive technologies could transform the delivery of public health through remote health services and digitally enabled healthcare workers who can link specialists with patients in rural areas. 

A modern ICT-based universal healthcare system will help leverage modern diagnostics in primary healthcare for early detection and treatment, and telemedicine to bridge the deficit of specialists at the primary care level.  They can also be used for cloud based data collection to collate epidemiological and patient centric data to profile and map the disease burden at the level of the smallest administrative unit. 

Comprehensive data bases and disease registries will enable better evaluation of the incidence and diversity of diseases at an epidemiological level and thereby allow for more effective healthcare interventions. This can, in turn, ensure equitable access to healthcare services of assured quality, safety, efficacy and cost effectiveness to all sections of the society.

An ICT-based health delivery model will need strong integration between primary and tertiary care providers. Also, linkages need to be established between health research and national health programs to ensure research findings are leveraged in decision making in public health. 

By 2025, some 400 million of India's poor could get access to better healthcare through technologies that bring medical expertise to modestly skilled health workers in remote areas.

Agriculture

Technology applications in the area of agriculture, like the use of hybrid and GM crops, precision farming, and mobile Internet–based farm-extension and market-information services could raise the incomes of as many as 100 million farmers and bring better nutrition to 300 million to 400 million consumers by 2025.

Energy

In the area of energy, smart metering could save US$15-US$20 billion a year by 2025 in reduced transmission losses. Technology can also be used to address India’s infrastructure deficit, with McKinsey estimating these interventions could help India build 10 million more affordable homes by 2025. 
Conclusion

Digital India has a huge role to play in spurring economic growth. India needs to embrace technology to deliver superior and sustainable solutions for a better life and a brighter future and ignite the entrepreneurial energy of today’s youth. If India can leverage the transformational power of technology through innovation, human ingenuity and, above all, effective leadership, it will be able to achieve sustainable double-digit economic growth. 


Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw



Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Smart Women Pursuing Smart Science

Image Credit: http://smartsciencetoday.blogspot.in/
A couple of years ago, India celebrated the success of its first Mars mission and I was very excited to see the smiling faces of the women staff of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) being splashed all over the media. It was a watershed moment as far as the Indian Space Program is concerned. But, more importantly, it shattered stereotypes about space research and Indian women. These are boom times for Indian science. In the last few years, science and technology, as a sector, has been receiving a lot of national spending with a lot of new universities and institutes that promotes science education and research coming up in the near future in India.

One aspect of scientific development in India that comes across as a pleasant surprise is the active participation and representation of women in the field of science and technology. If former Indian president Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was known as the ‘Missile Man’ of India, we have Tessy Thomas who is known as the ‘Missile Woman’ of India. She is the first woman scientist to head a missile project in India. Likewise, we have many more encouraging examples where women have broken the glass ceiling and made a mark in their respective fields. Today, 8 of the Top 10 Banks in India are headed by women and 12% of India’s 5,100 pilots are women.

However, stepping into the male-dominated domain of Indian science is not easy for a woman researcher. Women in science continue to have an incredibly difficult time being treated fairly because of the unfair system and sexism. And I can say this by drawing examples from my own life experience. The mind-set of the society is that women are less capable of understanding science, although all evidence is to the contrary. I faced seemingly insurmountable road-blocks on my path to building Biocon into the enterprise it is today. Initially, I had credibility challenges where I couldn't get banks to fund me; I couldn't recruit people to work for a woman boss. I can credit my success to my education and upbringing that had helped instil a strong sense of self-belief and a never-say-die spirit in me.

In India, women face discrimination when it comes to scientific institutions and science education. A new study by UNESCO outlining the involvement of women in science has some stark figures for India. As per a report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), 44% of bachelor students are female while 41% get till the doctoral level. The report further states that women researchers show a tendency to work in the academic and government sectors while men dominate the private research sector, which offers better salaries and opportunities for advancement. Moreover, as per a latest report by the World Economic Forum, only 14.3% of science researchers in India are women. The proportion is worse than that in several West Asian countries like Bahrain, where women account for 41.3% of researchers in science.

The Road Ahead


India is aggressively working towards establishing itself as a leader in industrialisation and technological development. The Government of India, through the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy-2013, among other things, aspires to position India among the world’s top five scientific powers. If India has to realise this dream, women have to take a central stage. They need to capitalize on their inherent qualities of compassion, sensitivity, multi-tasking and above all, the inner strength to excel. Coupled with their hard work and perseverance, women can achieve anything they set their minds on.

Kiran Mazumdar - Shaw




Thursday, 2 February 2017

Budget Expands Ambit of Clean India



Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has presented a Budget that boasts of several firsts. It is the first time that the railway and general budgets have been merged and planned and non-planned expenditure classification done away with.

I believe the Finance Minister has laid out a very safe budget this year operating with fiscal prudence and staying within his comfort zone. As a result, he has missed out on introducing bold measures that could have spurred non-linear economic growth in the wake of the slowdown on account of demonetisation.
The Budget has a good number of positive measures aimed at offering incentives to different stakeholders, boosting domestic spending and cleansing the country of black money. Budget 2017, presented across 10 key levers, aims to ‘Transform, Energise and Clean’ India. 

Transform, Energise and Clean India


The idea of a clean India has been doing the rounds for quite some time and this year’s Budget has widened the ambit of ‘Swachh Bharat’ from sanitation to cleaning up the financial and political systems. The finance minister has proposed the idea of ‘Transform, Energise and Clean’ India, to energise various sections of the society, especially the vulnerable, in order to unleash their true potential. This is an idea, which, if implemented properly, could yield great dividends for India in the long run.

Push to Rural India


The Budget provides a lot of thrust on development of the farm economy by raising the funding for the rural and agriculture sector by 24%. It talks about increasing the allocation for ‘Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana – Gramin’ from
Rs 15,000 crores to Rs 23,000 crores with a target to complete 1 crore affordable homes by 2019. It also sets a target of 1st May 2018 for achieving 100% rural electrification.

To give people in the rural India access to the Internet, the Budget talks of providing high speed broadband connectivity on optical fibre in more than 150,000 gram panchayats by the end of the next fiscal which will ensure better digital literacy.

The Innovation Fund for Secondary Education to be introduced in educationally backward districts will encourage local innovation, ensure universal access, gender parity and improvement in the quality of education & skill development in rural India.

Better Sanitation and Clean Water Supply


The sanitation coverage in rural India has increased to 60% and in order to improve this further the Budget has proposed incentives for ‘open defecation’ free villages. He has proposed to provide safe drinking water to over 28,000 arsenic and fluoride affected habitations in the next four years as part of a sub mission of the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP).

Push for Digitalization


Mr. Jaitley’s Budget has sought to strengthen the digital payments model to generate long-term benefits in terms of reduced corruption and greater formalisation of the economy. The Budget tries to encourage a "less-cash" society by capping cash transactions at Rs 3 lakh. It announced the launch of Aadhar Pay, a merchant version of Aadhar Enabled Payment System. Moreover, card readers, finger print readers and iris scanners can now benefit from excise and duty exemptions. However, this will need a bigger push on the digital infrastructure front in order to be inclusive.

Transparency in Political Funding


With an eye on bringing more accountability and transparency in political funding, the finance minister has announced a few measures, which are a welcome development. The innovative concept of electoral bonds proposed by the FM has the potential to change the way political funding is done in our country. The reporting of all donations above Rs 2000 in cash will spur better governance by political parties.

Conclusion


Overall, with this budget, Arun Jaitley has tried to make an attempt at cleansing the nation of black money by bringing in more transparency and accountability with a view to make India an inclusive and equitable society. 


Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, CMD, Biocon

Friday, 6 January 2017



Let’s Make Bengaluru Safe Again


I am shocked at the incidents of sexual violence against women in Bengaluru over the past few days. As a Bengalurean I have always been fiercely proud of the city’s reputation as one of the safest places for women in India. So the horrific incidents of women being molested openly in public places came as a rude jolt.

Bengaluru, a modern metropolis with global aspirations, is today unfortunately making global headlines for caveman-like sexual violence directed against women. It is a matter of collective shame that as a society and as citizens of Bengaluru we could neither protect these women nor could nab the culprits immediately. The situation calls for a swift action and exemplary punishment to deter any recurrence in future.

 We Need Policing, Not Politics

It is time for the authorities to confront the fact that we have a very serious law and order situation in our hands. According to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics for 2015, Bengaluru had reported the third highest number of attacks against women with an intent to outrage their modesty from among 53 Indian cities. The brazen manner in which miscreants went about assaulting women at Brigade Road on New Year’s Eve also shows that they had no fear of the law.

Bengaluru was till recently ranked as the best city in India to stay in and a large part of it was because of its liberal, progressive ethos and its reputation as one of India’s safest cities for women. Sadly, Mercer's Quality of Living Survey has ranked Bengaluru a distant third in 2016, behind Hyderabad and Pune.

A repeat of this kind of sexual assaults that have been reported in the last few days will end up permanently tarnishing the city’s image and alienating many who were considering making it their home.

Urgent action is needed to tackle a weak system of law enforcement and policing that leaves women vulnerable. Concerted efforts need to be made to catalyse legislative changes needed for the effective functioning of special courts that can deliver speedy justice to women victims of sexual abuse.

If such criminal activity goes unchecked, it will have serious ramifications for the future. It will not only erode citizens’ faith in the ability of the state to protect them, it will also make global investors nervous.


Stop This Moral Policing

As disturbing as these incidents are, what is equally distressing is that instead of unequivocal condemnation terms like ‘Western culture’, ‘half dress’, ‘late-night partying’ associated with women have come to dominate the narrative. This is dangerous because ‘victim blaming’ not only allows the sexual predators to go scot free but also emboldens them to repeat their offences.

Ironically, the moral police have a lot to say about how women should be dressed but are curiously silent on how men should behave in society. This is reflective of a very regressive male mind-set.

This hypocrisy needs to be called out because it is actually a mask for our society's intolerance towards women emancipation and gender equality. It reflects a deeply parochial mindset and an aversion towards a modern, self-assured woman who dares to break the age old mold of a submissive woman. Women were previously asked to dress in a certain way, but now when they decide to dress differently they are made to feel vulnerable. Women were previously expected to remain quiet, but now when they speak up they are made to feel vulnerable.

What these people need to understand is that the Indian woman has come a long way today and are confidently contributing to business, science, sports and many other fields. And we are not going to surrender our hard-fought social, political and economic independence to disappear behind closed doors just because of the brutish behaviour of some lumpen elements.

Let’s Reclaim Our City

Ordinary Bengalurueans also need to come forward to reclaim the city and protect its women-friendly reputation. We cannot remain apathetic to the subject of sexual assaults and let hoodlums run amok in our city. We need to speak up and protest whenever and wherever we witness sexual misconduct.

The political establishment needs to send out a very unambiguous signal that sexual crimes against women will be dealt with sternly. The police should take a ‘zero tolerance’ attitude towards sexual violence, take swift action whenever any such incidents are reported, name and shame the culprits in public, and make all efforts to ensure that the guilty don’t go unpunished.

Let us all take a pledge to make Bengaluru safe again!

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, CMD Biocon & Founder President, B.PAC

Tuesday, 3 January 2017



eHealth Push Can Build a ‘Swastha Bharat’ in 2017


2016 was a landmark year for India as demonetisation nudged the country towards an inclusive, less-cash dependant, digital future. In 2017, the government should push for the increased adoption of technology to transform the country’s public healthcare system and ensure a healthy future for all Indians.

The low priority accorded to healthcare in India over the years has resulted in a vicious cycle of disease, death and destitution in the country. Over 63 million Indians slip into poverty every year as high healthcare costs drain them of their financial resources. In fact, poverty caused by expenditure on health has doubled in India in the past 15 years. Surprisingly, this has happened in a period when India’s economy has grown at an average rate of almost 7% annually.

The dual burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) poses a grave socio-economic challenge for the future. It is estimated that NCDs alone will cost India USD 6.2 trillion by 2030.

Encouragingly, however, there are clear signals that the Indian government is intent on pushing the healthcare agenda. The NITI Aayog recently launched a ‘Performance on Health Outcomes’ index to rank various states on their performance on measurable health indicators. 2017 could be the year when the government implements far-reaching measures to build a ‘Swastha Bharat’.

Leveraging Information & Communication Technologies


India has a vast population and thus myriad healthcare challenges. Resource shortages however result in the unavailability of quality healthcare that is affordable and easily accessible. To tackle resource limitations the adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can provide policymakers in India with a very effective tool for improving healthcare delivery.

A modern ICT-based universal healthcare system will help leverage modern diagnostics in primary healthcare for early detection and treatment, and telemedicine to bridge the deficit of specialists at the primary care level.  They can also be used for cloud based data collection to collate epidemiological and patient centric data to profile and map the disease burden at the level of the smallest administrative unit. 

Comprehensive data bases and disease registries will enable better evaluation of the incidence and diversity of diseases at an epidemiological level and thereby allow for more effective healthcare interventions. This can, in turn, ensure equitable access to healthcare services of assured quality, safety, efficacy and cost effectiveness to all sections of the society.

An ICT-based health delivery model will need strong integration between primary and tertiary care providers. Also, linkages need to be established between health research and national health programs to ensure research findings are leveraged in decision making in public health. 

In this context it is heartening to know that the Indian government is in the process of giving final shape to the proposed National eHealth Authority, which will be the nodal authority responsible for development of an Integrated Health Information System (including Telemedicine and mHealth) in India.

This authority has been envisaged to support the formulation and management of all health informatics standards for India, laying down data management, policies, standards and guidelines in accordance with statutory provisions, promote setting up of state health records repositories and health information exchanges, and to deal with privacy and confidentiality aspects of electronic health records. 

The health ministry is already collecting Aadhaar numbers of patients and linking the unique identity numbers to patient records in a few states, according to media reports. The ministry has also notified the standards for electronic medical records and electronic health records in India. India has already implemented a Health Management Information System to capture public health data across the country.

Ensuring Affordable Healthcare 


Several studies have shown that strategic investment in health systems and the ability to innovate and adapt to resource limitations are among the key attributes that have helped some countries or regions achieve substantially better health outcomes than others at similar levels of development. It is in this context that the adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can provide policymakers in India with a very effective tool for improving healthcare delivery.

Utilizing the power of ICT & medical technology into the public healthcare sector government can bring in more transparency, efficiency and accountability that can enable a more effective healthcare system. 

Biocon Foundation, the CSR arm of Biocon, has already leveraged the power of technology to take healthcare services to rural and remote areas. It has implemented the unique eLAJ project to deliver evidence-based healthcare for the benefit of communities with poor access to quality healthcare in Karnataka and Rajasthan. Patient-specific health data are captured on the eLAJ electronic medical record system and linked to an individual’s Aadhar. 

The Foundation has also implemented a mobile phone based health (mHealth) platform for early detection, prevention and treatment of oral cancer. This comprehensive, evidence based oral cancer screening program facilitates early detection at the doorstep. By empowering the frontline health worker to conduct cancer screening in a low resource setting, this program has ensured that healthcare reaches remote pockets in a cost-effective manner. By linking oral cancer specialists with the rural population through telemedicine, the mHealth platform has created an opportunity for diagnosis, follow-up and referral.

I truly believe that technology can solve many of the daunting healthcare challenges that we face as a country. 

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, CMD, Biocon




This article first appeared on Business Standard on Jan 2, 2017