The Nexus of Science, Technology, and Foreign Policy Series: A Conversation with Shri Kapil Sibal

Thursday, April 6, 2006
Shri Kapil Sibal
Honorable Union Minister of Science & Technology and Ocean Development, Government of India
Daniel F. Jr. Burton
Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy,

Council on Foreign Relations

DANIEL F. BURTON, JR.:  We have such an august speaker today, I was told to make my introduction from the podium.  And I’ll start with the standard acknowledgements. 

Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.  The first order of business is if everyone would please turn off their cell phones, pagers and BlackBerrys.  And I would like to remind the audience that unlike many council events, this one is on the record, so all the comments are public. 

I’m going to start off with a quote from the White House about the U.S.-India strategic relationship, and they stated that the U.S.-India strategic partnership is rooted in shared values and is broad in nature and scope, with our two countries working together on global issues, including expanding economic freedom and democracy, and sharing plentiful sources of clean, safe and reliable energy, protecting security, supporting innovation and technological advances, and promoting public health.

And then there’s another quote that I think Senator Joseph Biden made yesterday, which I also think serves to tee up today’s discussion.  And he stated:  “It comes down to a simple bet we’re making.  It’s a bet that India appreciates as much as we do that the two nations have the potential to be the anchors for stability and security in the world going into the 21st century.” 

So I think we have today’s discussion, really, on the cusp not only of a new relationship between the United States and India, but a new century, which we’re entering together. 

We are extremely fortunate to have Mr. Shri Kapil Sibal with us today since he sits at the center of the technology nexus between the two countries.  And I think what is rarely acknowledged is the fact that technology provides the foundation for the greater partnership that the U.S. and India is trying to develop.  We are increasingly bound together in an effort to harness technological innovation, to address economic issues, health issues, and energy issues.

If you look at the bio inside, you’ll see that Minister Sibal has served in both the upper and lower houses of the Indian Parliament.  He serves as minister of State, with independent charge of the science, technology and ocean development portfolios, and distinguished himself to such an extent that in January 2006, he was elevated to Cabinet minister for Science & Technology and Ocean Development in the Union Cabinet of the government of India.  He knows the United States quite well, having studied at Harvard Law School, so he not only brings to us an understanding of the nexus between science and technology but also deep insight into the relationship between the United States and India. 

So I think the format today is he’ll make 15 or 20 minutes of introductory remarks and then we will open it up to questions and discussion from the audience.


Friends, it’s really fortunate for me to be here in the midst of lots of things that are happening in Washington.  And while President Bush was in India, I happened to be the minister-in-waiting, and so I was privy to lots of things that happened and what really got this deal going.

But before I talk about civil nuclear energy and some of the other things, I was told that my talk was to be on science and technology and the development agenda and development issues.  But the contours of your opening remarks suggest that, you know, the interest of the audience perhaps—

BURTON:  May be a more contemporary event.  (Laughs.)

SIBAL:  So I’ll have to change, sort of, track of it.  I don’t mind doing that.

So let me make preface for my remarks by saying this:  that there is—the great thing about the two countries, India and the United States, is that both countries respect knowledge.  They’re great democracies.  And if you look at the Indian tradition, you will find in that tradition a great deal of—not just respect for knowledge, but in a sense, seeking elevation from knowledge.  And therefore, knowledge became an end in itself within the Indian tradition.

The difference here in the United States is that knowledge is never an end in itself.  Knowledge becomes a means for seeking an end, other than just elevation from knowledge.  And that’s what differentiates the two societies.  Yours is an exceptionally knowledge-based society, but the application part of knowledge is what has taken the United States and made it a world power.  And India is in the process of learning how useful application of knowledge—or the translational part of knowledge—how do you translate knowledge into products and productivity—is something that we are beginning to learn.

And in this new relationship, what is happening is that the United States of America is willing to partner with us on the application end, and we are willing to partner with the United States at the knowledge end.  And I think that that’s really the essence of this meeting, and that’s really the essence of this relationship.  We have a huge, an enormous knowledge resource base in India, which thousands and thousands of young people—and 547 million people in our country are less than 25 years of age; makes us the youngest nation in the world, much younger than China, and that’s almost twice the entire population of the United States of America.  And when you think in terms of the reservoir of knowledge that will be created if we are able to create an environment which is conducive to the creation of knowledge, then that reservoir of knowledge can become a stepping stone to creating intellectual property and applying it for developmental goals, on the one hand, and for high technology goals on the other.

And that brings me to the second part of my prefatory remarks.  The relationship with the United States of America is at two ends.  The one is that we seek to collaborate at the high end of the technology.  In that sense, what’s happening is that 100 of the 500 Fortune 500 companies are in India, whether it’s GE or Intel or Bentley or Coca-Cola; you name it, they’re all there—Microsoft.  And what they’re doing is, they are taking advantage of the knowledge resource available in India, and they are, therefore, in that process creating knowledge—not just for the United States of America but, I think, for the world community as well.  And that—those people are at the high end of the knowledge spectrum, so to say. 

At the same time, as U.S. industry, as U.S. entrepreneurship is confronted with the problems of India, and as we get closer in the relationship, there is a realization at both ends that the mutual advantage that is going to come along in the process of this collaboration is going to be incomplete unless we create knowledge to benefit the larger goal of society and serve the developmental needs of India.

And so therefore, this relationship is really working at both ends, and what’s happened with the recent deal is that we hear talk about only the civil nuclear energy deal, which is really not a nuclear energy deal as such, because the word nuclear energy is somehow confused with nuclear weapons, and this deal has nothing to do with nuclear weapons.  It’s something to do with civil nuclear energy, releasing the enormous capacities available at both ends to serve the energy needs of the world community, which has nothing to do with proliferation or nonproliferation.  It’s one part of it.

But it also, in a sense, strikes at some very basic issues which impact on the millions of people who earn less than $2 a day.  And I can give you the number:  it’s 500 million people in India who earn less than $2 a day, and they have no use for nuclear energy.  They can hardly make their ends meet.  They don’t have necessary infrastructures in place to sell their agricultural commodities, and 60 percent of those people live in the rural areas.  They don’t have rural roads; they don’t have rural electricity; they don’t have drinking water.  Some of them don’t have sanitation.  And being a rural country and essentially an agricultural country, they need to actually increase their productivity. 

(Then come along ?) and in this deal you have what is called the Knowledge Initiative.  Well, that knowledge initiative has nothing to do with the high end of the technology.  It’s something to do at the low end of the requirements of the ordinary people of India who need a new revolution to ensure that there is continuing self-sufficiency in agriculture.

When you’re talking about more than a billion people, and 60 percent of them, 600 million people, living in the rural areas, we are in a situation where the per-acre per-capita productivity is on the decline.  And because that is on the decline, in the years to come and, of course, with population on the rise and the per-capita per-acre productivity on the decline, you’re not going to have self-sufficiency in the years to come.  Why?  Because soils have become saline because of overuse of fertilizers. 

The Green Revolution started by Dr. Borlaug—again, a knowledge initiative in some sense with the United States of America.  The setting up of the IIT, the first one in Kharagpur—another initiative by the United States of America.  The setting up of agricultural universities way back in the 1950s and 1960s—again, a knowledge initiative by the United States of America.

So unless we are able to move from the Green Revolution to the evergreen revolution, from the Green Revolution to the gene revolution, we’re not going to get self-sufficiency.  And so you see, I gave you two examples within the same initiative as to how they serve entirely different ends.  One serves a high technology end of the use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes, and the other uses—again, technology for entirely developmental purposes within India. 

Within that—within that framework, you have the setting up of a science and technology binational commission, where the endowment fund is $30 million.  And what this science and technology endowment fund is going to do is actually identify areas where science and technology can serve the ends of humanity. 

Because I always believed—and I’ve always said that scientists more than anybody else are really not citizens of any one country.   In fact, science has no territorial boundaries; nor do scientists have territorial boundaries.  If you’re working on a molecule, on the discovery of a new molecule, and then applying it for a new drug, you’re really not serving the United States of America, nor are you serving the economy of India.  You’re really serving humanity, in that sense, because that new molecule is going to be the harbinger of a new drug which, in turn—despite the fact that you may have intellectual property protected for 20 years, which in turn is going to serve humanity, you know, at large, at some (stage ?) or the other.

So the science and technology initiative is, again, an initiative which is not limited to any one sector of the economy, nor is it limited to any one section of a community.  And therefore, from agriculture to clean drinking water, to environment, to bringing down levels of pollution and many other aspects of science and technology which serve people at the ground level – that’s the area in which we’re going to move forward.

And let me give you a story, a very interesting story that took place just before I came back from India.  GE came to me, and they said, look, you know, apart from the great collaboration that we are having—we have the largest R&D enterprise outside of the United States, in India—but you know, we’re very interested in drinking water and technologies relating to drinking water.  And I’m telling you this story advisedly, because it tells you the nature of this relationship and where it’s going.  And I said to him, I said, that’s great, you know; we have a lot of drinking water problems in India.  And let me tell you something:  About 39 percent of our entire population lives along the coastline, and the coastline is 7,500 kilometers long, and when you talk about 39 percent, you’re talking about 400 million people that live along the coastline.  And a lot of those people don’t have drinking water.

But you know what?  Your reverse osmosis is not going to solve our problems.  It’s too expensive, number one.  It’s very difficult to replace the membrane, number two.  Number three, we don’t have power in many parts of the coastal areas, and you can’t have reverse osmosis without power.  So you know, I’m very happy that you’re talking about giving us technology or collaborating with us on drinking water, but you know, many of your technologies are not necessarily suited to the complexities of the Indian problem that we have.  So we need to collaborate, perhaps, in the lower end and create technologies which are going to solve the problems, even though you continue your R&D efforts in Bangalore with the largest contingent outside of the United States.

And he said, well, you know, how do we do that?  I said, I’ll give you an example.  I said, we are confronted with this problem, and so we decided to convert sea water into drinking water.  And what we did was very simple.  In an island in the Lakshadweep Islands, we have a place called Kavaratti, which has about 11,000 people.  And I said, what we did was we took the differential of temperature 200 meters below the sea and temperature of the surface—which is 12 to 13 degrees 200 meters below, and 26 degrees at the surface—and we brought in vacuum conditions—we sent the water from the bottom to the surface, and in vacuum conditions we brought down the boiling point of water, and you had suddenly flash evaporation.  And we collected the vapor in a chamber, and the salt was left behind.  And Kavaratti, with 11,000 people, which had not a drop of drinking water, was supplied with 100,000-liter plant, 11 liters per person.  Now, that’s not reverse osmosis; that’s simple technology, useful for India, acceptable, affordable to the buying capacity of the Indian consumer.  And GE said to me, we’re absolutely delighted.  We’d love to do that with you.  We’d like to upgrade it; we’d like to invest in it.

Now, that’s where the relationship is going.  GE is doing high-end technology, Intel is wanting to—the design of the Intel chip is done in India.  Lots of, you know, high-end work is done in India.  But at the same time, American technology is recognizing the fact that a lot of the problems with India, if you want this relationship to go anywhere, need to be resolved through technological solutions which are not necessarily high-end.

And it’s the recognition of the confluence and affinity between the high-end needs of a society and the recognition of the developmental needs of a society which makes this relationship really worth it.  And I’m talking purely now in terms of technology.  I think the relationship is worth it because I think that America and India are going to be the harbingers of what the world is going to be 20, 30, 40 years from now.  And as I said the other day, if you stand on the East Coast of the United States of America and look across the Atlantic and try and find a country who America would like to collaborate with in the long term, I bet the only country there is India.  And I think the fact that we are two of the greatest democracies in the world, the largest and the oldest, the fact that we have shared human values, the fact that we are both committed to human rights, the fact that we have—in a sense, I think that the success of democracy in the world will depend on how successful Indian democracy is.  And in that sense, I think—and I say it with some level of confidence—that the United States of America, as a democratic nation, has a stake in the success of India as a democratic nation.

But we should ask ourselves, and the question that we must ask ourselves is, what is it that the world will be confronted with if India as a democracy fails?  That’s the question we must ask ourselves.  And how large does democracy have a stake in the success of democracy in India is the second question that we must ask ourselves.  And any deal that you are going to look at, whether it’s the civil nuclear energy deal or any other deal, must be couched in those terms.  That’s the question that ought to be asked.  And when you look at the big picture, and you try and answer the larger question, you always actually will end up in supporting this relationship.

When you start going to—you know, if you start nitpicking and you start finding faults—I don’t think there’s any relationship in the world at the level of—at whatever level we live, which cannot be criticized or that we cannot nitpick.  You know, we can nitpick any relationship.  The issue is not that in the larger context.  We have to see the largest interests of society.  And if you want democracy to be embraced by the rest of the world. then the democratic experiment that is taking place in a democracy like India, which has been perhaps the most successful democracy in the world, there is a stake that all of us have who believe in democracy and ensuring that that system succeeds.  And when President Bush came to India, you know, he said—and I think he said very rightly—where do you find a nation where the majority of people who live there are Hindus and the president of the nation is a Muslim, the prime minister of the nation is a Sikh, and the leader of the largest political party now running the country is a Roman Catholic?  Where do you find that?  Do you find it anywhere in the world?  No. 

It will tell you something about India.  It tells you something about the multicultural, multiracial dimension of India and the levels of tolerance that are absorbed by people, in a sense, who live with tolerance.  And that’s why, perhaps, India was never conquered.  In a sense, we absorbed the culture, the ways of life, the thought processes of all those who touched us without really changing.

And so, in a sense, this is the way we must look at the relationship between the United States and India. 

And is 15 minutes over?  (Laughter.) 

BURTON:  Perfect.

SIBAL:  So, I think—I just wanted to give you, you know, my thoughts.  These are entirely my thoughts on how this relationship—where it should go, what this relationship is all about and how I think about the synergies between two of the greatest nations in the world in the years to come.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

BURTON:  While Minister Sibal is getting miked, I’d like to remind everyone in the questions to please stand, wait for the microphone before you pose your question, and identify yourself and your organization. 

And I would like to thank you for drawing back both the high end and the low end when it comes to technology.  I tend to focus on the high end.

But let me start with posing a question that I’m afraid if I don’t pose it, I’m not sure that others will.  And that is a technology that touches both the high and the low end and, I think, has really transformed our relationship in many ways.  And that’s the Internet.  And could you just speculate a moment on sort of the impact that you think the Internet has had on the U.S.-India relationship and that it will have going forward?

SIBAL:  I think that we’ve not yet realized the extent of that impact.  I think we’re in the process of in fact—we are in part of the process at the moment.  We don’t know what the extent of that impact is going to be.  As you know, that information technology is an area where a lot of the Indians have contributed a great deal in the United States of America.  And in the last three, four years or so, 30,000 people in the Silicon Valley have come back to India and setting up companies in the information technology sector.  And I think at the heart of all that is the Internet. 

And so at the heart of all the tech developments that are taking place in India today is the information technology revolution.  And it wouldn’t have happened because of the—unless the information highway was available to us.  And we haven’t yet seen the extent of that impact.  And I think it’s the 25 and 30 years from now.

What’s happening?  I’ll give you a small example.  One of the biggest problems that our nation is facing is that, unlike China, we don’t have the physical infrastructure in place in India.  Well, China can do it for the simple reason that China, by and large, is unconcerned with the levels of NPA that exist in China.  A bank can give loans for anything and the levels of transparency and accountability are relatively less stringent than those in India and, naturally, in a democracy.  So we need to have a balanced budget.  We need to ensure that our fiscal deficit is not large.  We know we need to ensure that our—that we’re accountable.

And so we cannot—you know, before business comes in, we can’t build infrastructure.  You know, our developmental process is entirely different.  What we do is we get the money in, you get the trade in, and with the economic growth of 8 to 9 percent, we start building the infrastructure.  But if you go to China, you have the infrastructure first and the trade comes later, right?  So there are lots of buildings in China in Pudong and other places, which are there, but unoccupied.  Well, with the Chinese economy, that system works. 

So coming back to your issue, we decided that if we don’t have the physical infrastructure, we need to use the Internet and information technology to actually substitute and reach information to people, which otherwise people would have got had the communication system and the infrastructure been in place.

So one of our private companies, the ITC, has set up an—(inaudible)—system, where what you do is you set up a computer and you train the village community or one or two members of the village community to access it.  Now, under normal market conditions, a pure agriculturist will sell his product and go to the marketplace, and whatever he gets for it, he’ll sell because there are no technologies to increase the shelf life of its value, right?  So therefore, he’s always at the receiving end.

But now that we have changed people, people go to the Internet, look at the available prices in the particular agricultural commodity, decide when to go to market, when not to go to the market.  And the ITC has made an arrangement with them that instead of going through middlemen, we will at the prevailing rates of the market in the market of produce that you are producing buy that commodity from you at the rate prevailing the previous day.

So looking at things like this through the Internet and through information technology have brought about a sea change in the entire process and we have yet to see the impact of it. 

In disaster management, for example, just one month ago we had a technology by which if there is a disaster in India of the kind that we had in the tsunami on the 26th of December, then we now have a system through which—through an Internet, because power systems break down; there is automatic translation into 14 different languages, which will spread the message to the areas which are affected immediately.  And a translation of the—(inaudible)—into voice through wireless, which will reach people.

But that is what information technology, without the natural necessary or physical assets base, is doing for the country.  The impact of it is not yet over and I can’t quantify that.

BURTON:  Very good.

Yes, questions from the audience?

QUESTIONER:  My name is Arian Pregenzer.  I’m from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

And my question is, you’ve laid out such a big spectrum and such a wonderful rationale for this deal between the U.S. and India.  Should the U.S. Congress or the Indian Parliament bicker and nitpick—in your words—and reject the nuclear portion of this agreement?  Do you think that the agreement can survive?  Because it seems to me like this nuclear part may be not essential to the success of the entire enterprise.  Just speculate on if it does survive the Congress or the Parliament.

SIBAL:  That’s a very tough question to answer, because I’m on record.  (Laughter.)  But let me try and answer it.  I think the civil nuclear energy deal is part of the package.  It’s linked to the entire package and I think it’s an essential link.  And I’ll demonstrate why it is an essential link.

If you look at the world of 2025 and you look at the United States of America – we’ll talk about India later—your levels of consumption of crude oil are on the rise.  And by 2025, the United States will be importing more than 60 percent of its crude oil.  And 65 percent of all the volume of crude oil in the world is concentrated in five countries of the world:  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and the UAE.

Now, admittedly, these are troubled times and those are troubled nations.  And I don’t see production levels rising in those troubled nations for some time to come.  And if production levels don’t rise and your consumption demands—and I’m talking only of the United States; I’ll come to India and China later—are on the rise, unless consumption levels in Saudi and other places rise enormously, you’re not going to be able to meet those demands.  Even if you try to open up Alaska, which you’re trying to do, I don’t think you’re going to get those kind of results that you’re talking about—apart from the environmental issues involved. 

If you now look at China and India in context of what I’ve said, and you have a 300 million middle class in India which is burgeoning, which is normally the entire population of the United States, and which by 2025 will be at least 700 million.  And with its $2,000 car, which Tata has threatened to unleash into the Indian market, you can imagine the levels of consumption which will be on the rise of crude oil alone.  And this is not taking into account the increasing levels of consumption in China.  With that, look at the competing interests for demand of crude in the five countries that we’re talking about, and I think we’re in for trouble. 

Now, if you look at it from that sense, and that’s why I prefaced my statement today by saying don’t look at civil nuclear energy as a proliferation or a nonproliferation issue.  It’s a global need.  It needs to solve the global community at the energy end.  And you need to release those pressures and those demands.  And China is part of it anyway because it’s a signatory to the ‘67 treaty.  And India needs to be freed from the shackles.  And it needs to increase its capacity for production of energy from fissile material from a 2 percent to 27 percent or 30 percent in the years to come, which will then in turn reduce the competing demand for crude oil in the Middle East, reduce the pressure—right?—and help energy security in the rest of the world.

I don’t see how anybody can think that if the energy deal will go through, the rest—is not going to go through, the rest of the deal will.  I’m not saying no, but I think people must understand that we’re not talking about some of the issues that have been raised here.  We’re talking about global energy security.

BURTON:  Very good.

Yes, a question in the back.

QUESTIONER:  Mindy Kotler from Asia Policy Point here in Washington.  My question is a little simpler.  If you could talk so broadly about India’s science and technology plans, how they’ve been successful in the past and what are the science and technology plans for the future, what percent of India’s budget goes towards R&D development?

SIBAL:  Well, you know, in terms of absolute numbers, if the United States of America invests $224 billion a year on R&D, India about 6 (billion dollars) to $7 billion.  Okay, that’s just minuscule.  But if you look at the per-dollar output, India’s per-dollar output in R&D is more than any other country in the world.  It’s number one.  And we’re not talking about, you know, the R&D which comes through investments in India and the investments of multinational—that number is not included in the 6 (billion dollars) to $7 billion figure.

The issue is not that.  The issue is really not numbers.  The issue is where are we going.  And the fact of the matter is there is—we have unleashed in India, through a collaborative process, the powers of innovation of the quality of human resource that we have in India.  We produce 400,000 engineers a year.  We produce 25,000 medical practitioners a year.  And so I think the S&T program in India is going to be at the forefront of the developmental process.  And every ministry in the government of India, whether we talk about, you know, using alternative sources like energy—like ethanol, you know, energy through oil seeds, through the Jatropha plant, you know (first of all ?) take cells for the purposes of solar energy. 

You know, things are happening faster than I can think in that area in India.  And I think what was happening in the United States in the 1920s, the levels of enthusiasm here for innovation, are happening in India.

I must tell you that I asked this question from my friend—(inaudible)—came to me in the story I told you earlier.  I said why do you get engineers from here; you have huge number of engineers in the United States of America?  And he said to me, he said look, you know, if I were to look for the right engineer in the United States of America, it would take me three years to find one because of investments—people are not going into engineering in the United States of America.  And he said what I can do in India is to pick up a guy and train him for a few weeks and he’s as good as anybody else in the world.

So that’s what’s happening in India.  There’s excitement, there’s churning, there are great opportunities, there’s innovation.  And we are collaborating with the rest of the world and taking forward our relationship with many countries, especially in the area of science and technology.

There’s great hope I think.

QUESTIONER:  Jim Moody, Merrill Lynch.  To change the subject a bit, if we could:  One of your portfolios is the ocean side, I understand.

SIBAL:  Yeah.

QUESTIONER:  Notwithstanding the risk of tsunamis and other ocean-born difficulties, it’s a tremendous resource you have around a large section of your country.  Can you talk about in the same kind of general terms what are some of the untapped resources or potential that the oceans that India faces provide?  Thank you.

SIBAL:  You have enormous amount of living and nonliving resources in any ocean.  And as far as we’re concerned, we have two very specific programs which are going on at the moment.  One is the extraction of methane from gas hydrates at the bottom of the ocean.  There’s enormous source of energy.  And if we can actually extract it without losing methane—because it’s at the bottom of the sea in cold conditions, and if you try and bring it up, then what happens is that the methane evaporates and we lose it.  So the technology is to get those gas hydrates without losing the methane.  And we’re working on that.  We have a program with the United States of America; it’s part of the deal.  And we have at the moment a program going on with the Russians in Lake Baikal, we’re doing experiments in Lake Baikal for this extraction.  We also want to set up a collaborative program with the Canadians, because they too have gas hydrates.  That’s one area.

The other area is polymetallic nodules, which are at the bottom of the ocean with copper and cobalt and some other minerals, which are extremely useful for us.  And so we are developing technologies in that area.  And one of the programs that we have in the United State again is deep sea mining, deep sea drilling to get at some of those nonliving resources.  We have huge amounts of living resources in the ocean which are yet untapped, and I think we need to actually manage those resources much better than we are managing today.  And I think we need to collaborate with some of the Scandinavian countries, in particular Iceland and Finland, who have very, very good technologies in managing some of the living resources.

But I think the depths of the ocean are a mystery to all of us because we’ve not yet exploited what is there.  The fact of the matter is that life works at two levels—everything works at two levels.  Life also works at two levels.  You have photosynthesis on the surface of the earth and you have chemosynthesis; that means there is life at the bottom of the ocean who don’t use oxygen for survival.  And on the surface of the plant Earth, you can’t survive without oxygen.  So those two processes are going on side by side.  We’ve learned a lot from photosynthesis; we haven’t learned enough from chemosynthesis.  I think we need to do that.  And I think there, again, India and the United States collaborate with each other to move ahead.

BURTON:  Very good.  I think a question here, and then you in the back in just a moment.  Yes?

QUESTIONER:  Thank you, Minister.  Robert Murray, CNA Corporation.  I had two questions.  One is as the minister, and particularly as the minister for Science, Technology and Oceans, what are your top three challenges and worries?  And the second question was, you talked about India and democracy and the largest democracy; are you in the business of exporting democracy in—(laughter)—in any form?

SIBAL:  Let me answer your—the second one is a tough one.  (Laughter.)  Let me answer the first one.

What are my top three agenda items in science and technology?  I think number one is human resource development.  You know, what’s happening in the world today—that what you need is quality people.  What we have is a lot of people at the bottom of the pyramid.  We have a lot of BSCs and a lot of MSCs and a lot of engineers, but as we go up the value chain, we need to improve their quality.  And so we need a lot of investment for knowledge, resource, quality (accreditation ?).  And that’s my number one priority.  That’s my number one priority.

My number two priority is water.  I think water is one of the biggest issues that is going to confront the world in the years to come.  We’ve not been able to manage our water resources.  And these are dwindling resources.  Our fresh water lakes, our aquifers are really, you know, nature’s heritage to us, which we are destroying.  If you really look at the billions and billions of years that have gone by and how water has—water is a resource which we enjoy without really considering how it came about.  If we really looked into that, we’d realize that we’re at the threshold of a crisis.  And I think we need to get water to people.  A lot of my people in my country don’t have enough water to drink clean drinking water, and I think that’s—basically my second priority is look at developmental needs in the country.  You know, people don’t have housing.  I need to have low-technology solutions for housing.  You know, we now produce bamboo; we’re the second largest producers of bamboo in the world.  We produce bamboo, which has the tensile strength of steel.  And we can set up a house of bamboo in one day.  So we now have the technology and we need those low-technology solutions for our poor people. 

And my second priority is—again, at the low end—how do I deal with my poor people in my country and how do I reach technology to them to serve their everyday needs, whether it’s sanitation or it’s pollution or it’s drinking water or it’s shelter.

And my third priority is as minister of Science & Technology is to—how I allow innovation to come in from the rest of the world, how I improve my intellectual property laws and strengthen the capacity for India to create (them ?).  That’s my third priority.

QUESTIONER:  Exporting democracy?

SIBAL:  You know—(laughter)—I think that we have exported more democracy than any other nation of the world already, because—for the simple reason that I think the number of Indians who lived in—(laughter)—in other parts of the world are more than any other country.  And if the value system of those Indians is anything to go by, I think that we are great exporters of the belief in tolerance and multiculturalism and befriending people, and I think that’s what democracy stands for.

But we don’t believe in trading that—(light laughter)—or forcing things down people’s throats.

BURTON:  Very good.  I think we have a few questions back here.

Yes, ma’am?

QUESTIONER:  Katherine Grover from American University.  I have a question on the nexus between energy and development and the role of technology in two senses:  one in meeting the deficits, the unmet need of the millions of Indians, as well as the ramifications of energy production of conventional pollution and the rises in pollution.  This nuclear deal has been portrayed as one that would reduce greenhouse gases, but I would rather that you talk about the role of conventional pollution.  And also, then, your view of cooperation and international cooperation in meeting those technology needs.

SIBAL:  You’re absolutely right.  Our strategy has to be that. Our strategy has to be not just you know—I think, let me—the answer would be clear if I give you some numbers.

At the moment, our energy requirements in India are something like 220,000 megawatts.  Now what is it that we produce at this point in time, 126,000 megawatts.  So the unmet need is almost 100,000 megawatts.  Of the 126,000 megawatts, 2 percent come from nuclear energy.  So assuming we were to increase from 2 percent to 30 percent—right?—it would still be 60,000 megawatts, but by the time we reach the figure of 60,000 megawatts, which would be in the year 2031—okay?—our levels of consumption would be on the rise and the requirement would be 300,000 megawatts.  So clearly nuclear energy is not going to meet the unmet needs of consumption levels of demand in India as far as energy is concerned.  So we have to actually, apart from nuclear energy—it will reduce the pressure, but we have to actually move to other areas.  And then comes the issue of pollution.  Well, one of the areas in which the deal has been signed with the United States of America is zero levels of emissions as far as coal is concerned.  We need to adopt technologies which are green and which result in zero levels of emissions.

It’s particularly important to us for the simple reason that the ash content of coal is very high in India.  So the levels of pollution are extremely high if we use coal as an energy source.  And we don’t produce enough bicks (sp) from ash to be able to absorb in the economy, so a lot of that is left out in the environment and we have to find a quick solution.  So one of the deals is that we need to have technologies where there is zero emissions as far as fossil fuels like coal is concerned.

But that’s not the end of the story.  We need to extend our energy cooperation in the nonconventional forms of energy as well, like ethanol and getting energy out from oil seeds—Jatropha plant.  And we are now planting huge—thousands and thousands of acres of land of Jatropha only to meet those needs.  But I think this is a very complex issue. 

Having said all that, even if everything were done, we’d still be short.  We need to really worry about the environment.  And we’re willing to collaborate with the international community at whatever level required, because the environment—again, like science and technology and (life sciences ?)—is not a territorial issue.  It’s a global issue.  In a global world, if we pollute the atmosphere in India, it impacts on levels of pollution in the universe.  So what we do impacts on you.  What you do impacts on us, and you’ve been doing it for centuries; we’re about to start.  (Laughter.)  And so I think we also have to be careful about that.  We need to actually collaborate with the international community to come up with global solutions for that.

BURTON:   Yes, in the back.

QUESTIONER:  Michael Krepon.  I’m with the Henry L. Stimson Center.  Mr. Minister, are you exportable?  Because I could think of a couple of jobs that—over here—that you’d just be perfect.  (Laughter.) 

Your foreign secretary gave a speech in New Delhi, and he said that the deal, the nuclear deal, was about electricity.

SIBAL:  Sorry?  It was about—

QUESTIONER:  It was about electricity.  And to use his word, it would be illogical for India not to put these facilities under safeguards, because it was all about the generation of power.  And if those words were translated into the deal, we wouldn’t be having a debate in this country.  It would be simple.  But eight of your power plants are not going to be safeguarded.  Your breeder program now in existence (is) not going to be safeguarded.  Please explain to us the logic of that.

SIBAL:  Okay.  I’m just coming back to your comment about exportability.  I have to say that I lived in the United States for four years, and I was exported back to India.  (Laughter.) 

Let me try and answer your question.  That’s a tough one.  Let me just explain it in this fashion, as simple as I can.  Does the United States of America and the rest of the world recognize the fact that there is a security issue in the Indian Subcontinent?  I think you have to ask yourself that question.  Ask yourself that question, then go back to what your presidents have been saying over the years, that America’s security concerns are of paramount importance to the people of the United States.  It’s something that we accept wholeheartedly.  And if America’s security concerns are paramount to the people of the United States, surely India’s security concerns are equally paramount to the people of India.

So when you say that eight of the 22 nuclear facilities are out of safeguards, it’s because of our security concerns and the recognition of the fact that India has security concerns.  If we both recognize that fact, there can be a debate on the issue.  But I think that nobody in the world will doubt us on that, that we truly have security concerns.  And despite our security concerns—and we have been at the receiving end for the last 60 years—despite the—remember, we went into Pokhran-1 in 1974, when China detonated in 1971.  And when Mrs. Gandhi did Pokhran-1 she said, “We are doing this for peaceful purposes,” again underlining our security concerns.  When we did it in 1998 in Pokhran-2, within a few days, Pakistan detonated.  Surely Pakistan didn’t build a bomb in five days.  That, too, was in response to our security concerns.  And therefore, I think it would be very unfair on India to say that we shouldn’t bother about your security concerns and put all your nuclear plants under safeguards.  That’s a very unfair comment and an unfair argument to make, if you accept the fact that India has security concerns. 

Having said that, despite our security concerns, we have been impeccable in our nonproliferation record.  That’s point number two.  Nobody—we have been more impeccable than many powers in the world who are signatories to the 1967 treaty, which we are not, and who were bound to abide by the rules of the 1967 treaty and who knowingly violated that and are still part of the regime.  So if our record as being a country outside the NPT is better than the record of countries who are part of the NPT, I don’t see how anybody can object to our being concerned about our security concerns.

Now, having said that, the question is why is it that we want those facilities outside?  Because that’s why I said you shouldn’t look at this issue as a proliferation-nonproliferation issue, because nobody can question India’s nonproliferation record.  These facilities are in the context of our nuclear doctrine.  What is our nuclear doctrine?  Minimum credible deterrence.  We have said that we’re never going to be—never going to have a first strike.  Our facilities are meant to retaliate, only to retaliate, not to have a first strike.  And a minimum credible deterrence is what?  That we should, in retaliation, cause unacceptable damage to the enemy who has made a first strike.  In other words, the facilities are, in their nature, a defensive arrangement, not an aggressive arrangement.  So even—the facilities concerned are defensive in nature, not offensive.  And so how can anybody object?  How can this argument ever be made?  I fail to understand.

BURTON:  Very good.  Yes.

QUESTIONER:  Ajay Sridastava—from Lockheed Martin.  The defense industry has been a significant growth factor for science and technology in the U.S., as it has around the world.  What scope does the defense industry have in contributing to science and technology in India for the civil infrastructure?

SIBAL:  For what?

QUESTIONER:  Civil infrastructure.

SIBAL:  The defense industry has a lot of roles to play in making a lot of money.  (Light laughter.)  We are opening up our defense industry.  We are now subcontracting, sublicensing a lot of facilities in our defense system, and I think we are in the process of opening up this entire sector, and I think Lockheed Martin and a lot of the other companies have a huge—you know, will have a huge role to play in the opening up of that sector.

I really don’t know the details, quite frankly, because I have really no concern with defense, so I can’t really tell you the numbers.  But I do know that as a policy matter, we have shifted away from a regime where we are entirely self-reliant to a regime where we outsource a lot of our defense equipment to individual entrepreneurs.  And I think there, Lockheed Martin would have a very important role to play.

BURTON:  Very good.  Yes.

QUESTIONER:  Thanks.  My name is Yudhijit Bhattacharjee and I work for Science Magazine.  I know many here have asked very broad questions, but I wanted to ask a slightly narrower question.  And this is about the IIT, the Indian Institute of Technology.  I’m an alumnus of IIT Bombay, and right after I graduated, I became a science writer and then I did some searches to see what my professors had been doing in terms of research.  And this relates to the point that you’ve made about generating knowledge and innovation.  And I discovered—I was very displeased to find that most of my professors at IIT Bombay were not really publishing, that they didn’t have any active research programs.  And so after I came to this country and continued my science writing career here, I discovered that one of the driving forces behind knowledge generation in this country was the tenure system, the system of actually granting tenure based on publications and then granting promotions based on publications and research, et cetera.

And I wonder, since you’re taking all these steps to reform the Indian system, I wonder if you are considering importing and establishing a tenure system, at least for the IITs, in order to drive more knowledge generation and get the professors there to move out of their comfort zones.

SIBAL:  Good question.  Okay, I’ll give you three—answers at three levels.  First, I want to say I’m not in charge of human resource development.  (Laughter.)  Okay?  I’m really—Science & Technology—Human Resource Development is another ministry.  But let me answer. 

I very strongly feel—very, very strongly—that we should have a tenure system in India.  And that’s not the only reason.  Tenure system is not the only means of upgrading or being the harbinger of innovation.  I think what we need is more than that, not just a tenure system.  What we need is releasing the energies of the academic community in creating knowledge.  And therefore, consistent with the—(inaudible)—Act that you have in the United States of America, I have prepared a legislation for the scientific community.  Dr. Bhan, my secretary, I entrusted him with the task, you know, about six months ago, and we are now ready with the legislation, which we will send to Cabinet very soon and have it passed. 

Because what you need is ownership.  What you need is the academic community to have incentives and have a sense of ownership in what they create.  So tenure system, yes.  There must be publications before they are promoted.  Ownership next.  And three, most important of all, is release some controls of government.  The education community needs to be revitalized by ensuring that government gets off their back.  And let me tell you this—this is my individual view, okay?  I passionately believe in this.  And even though I’m going on record, and I would normally not go—but because I passionately believe in this, I am on record.

This is not necessarily the belief of many people in government, okay?  And I think that if we truly want to become a knowledge society, and if we truly want to become a world-class economy, we will have to ultimately do that.  And the problem with India, especially the IITs, apart from the tenure system—I don’t think there’s enough investment in the IITs.  I think we need to upgrade even the IITs in India.

BURTON:  Very good.  We are out of time.  I think this conversation could clearly go on much longer. 

Minister Sibal, I’d like to thank you for spending the past hour with us.  You have demonstrated not only great political acumen and scientific understanding, but mixed it with a powerful dose of philosophy.  And we will certainly need all three if we’re going to survive and prosper in the 21st century.  (Applause.)







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