Punjab Shows Resolve To Turn New Leaf, Emerge As Research & Innovation Hub Of India

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The resolute intent of the state Government to make Mission Innovate Punjab a success, and position the frontier state as the research and innovation hub of the country, was quite palpable at the impressive Punjab Innovation & Technology Summit 2019, organised in Chandigarh on Tuesday and attended by leaders from government, academia, industry and innovation and research organisations from across the country and abroad.

Giving a historical perspective of the preeminent place Punjab held, first as the sword arm, and later as the food bowl of the country, the philosophical Finance Minister of the state Manpreet Singh Badal, deputising for Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh as chief guest, said it was time for the glorious state to turn another chapter and lead the nation in the field of research and innovation.

Wowing the audience with his masterful delivery of couplets and memories of interesting episodes from history books, Badal pressed home the point that ideas propel countries to progress. Coinciding with the celebrations of 550th birth anniversary of the first Sikh master Guru Nanak Dev, he said after wielding the sword and the plough with elan, Punjab has now  resolved to master the field of research and innovation and make the state its hub.

“I am sure this will prove a turning point in the history of the state and change its destiny,” he asserted.

Giving an overview of the state’s economy in the inaugural session, Punjab Principal Secretary Science & Technology Rakesh Kumar Verma said from a leading state with a robust economy and the highest per capita state GDP in the country, Punjab’s growth started to slow down in the mid 1990s and today it is languishing in the bottom half of the leader board.

He informed the gathering that Punjab Innovation & Technology Summit 2019 is aimed at reversing the trend and restoring the glory of the state. It is being organised under Mission Innovate Punjab, the purpose of which is to build a robust ecosystem for research and innovation in the state by synergising relationships among the four pillars – academia, industries, government departments and funding agencies. The Mission is striving to enhance competitiveness, boost growth and create quality jobs, he added.

Three documents were released on the occasion – Framework for Mission Innovate Punjab, Draft State Action Plan for Climate Change and Concept Document of Global Innovation Hub.

A MoU was also exchanged with the recently launched promising technology university, Plaksha University in Mohali, which has become Punjab Government’s knowledge partner for the Global Innovation Hub to come up on 4 acres land in Knowledge City Mohali. The hub is expected to connect the universities and research institutions already present in the Knowledge City and encourage collaborations not only regionally, but also nationally and globally.

The gathering was also informed that the state government is in negotiations with tech giants like Accenture and IMB India to become its strategic partners in this mission. The participation in the summit of Accenture Managing Director S. Balasubramanian and IMB Managing Director for India & South Asia Karan Bajwa was proof enough of the two companies’ interest in contributing to the mission’s success.

A host of universities and research institutions from the region have been taken on board by signing MoUs with them to take the Mission Innovate Punjab forward. Among them are IIT Ropar, IMTECH Chandigarh, Public Health Foundation of India New Delhi, DAV University Jalandhar, Chitkara University Rajpura, Punjabi University Patiala, Lovely Professional University Jalandhar, Dr. BR Ambedkar National Institute of Technology Jalandhar, NIPER Mohali, Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology Patiala, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary & Animal Sciences University Ludhiana and Guru Nanak Engineering College Ludhiana.

From the industry side, the associations which have joined hands with the Punjab government in the mission are All India Steel Rerollers Association Mandi Gobindgarh, United Sewing Machine & Parts Manufacturers Association Ludhiana, Mohali Hi-Tech Metal Cluster, Chamber of Industrial & Commercial Undertakings (CICU) Ludhiana and Automation Industry Association New Delhi.   

Speaking at the inaugural, Dr Abhay Jere, Chief Innovation Officer Innovation Cell of the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development, said the cell was created in the ministry 18 months ago to kick start innovation and so far 10 lakh college students and faculty members had been directly touched with its activities.

He informed that under the Smart India Hackathon, the world’s largest open competition in innovation launched recently, 50 lakh-plus college students vied for the top honours at 65-plus locations across the country. The 2020 edition of the hackathon will provide students a platform to find world class solutions to the pressing daily problems of the people involving ministries, departments, industries, PSUs and NGOs across the spectrum to inculcate in them a culture of product innovation and a mindset of problem-solving. This will also help the outstanding contestants launch startups or get an opportunity to be hired by top government and private sector industries and organisations, he added. 

Jere shared that higher education institutions and universities are also being systematically ranked under Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation Achievements (ARIIA) basis indicators related to innovation and entrepreneurship development among students and faculties. This is aimed at inspiring Indian institutions to reorient their mind-sets and build ecosystems to encourage high quality research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Dr. MP Poonia, Vice Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), while giving figures of the state of technical education institutions in the country said only 20 lakh students are getting enrolled in these institutions which have a combined capacity of 37 lakh seats. Out of these 20 lakh only 13 lakh are passing out and only 7 lakh getting employed.

“If we are unable to guide and monitor these 6 lakh unemployed, I am afraid that these youths instead of being the country’s strength will prove to be a burden. These youth can be guided to spread out in the villages to do some innovative problem solving by establishing startups. This will not only strengthen rural economies, and achieve the target of doubling farmers’ incomes, but also provide rural employment, he shared.

Among other measures, the council has instituted the Vishwakarma Award and aligned the curriculum with Industry 4.0, he said, adding that a fund of Rs 300 crore has been created to strengthen research and development activities and lab infrastructure in technical institutions. Maximum applications for assistance from the fund are being received from the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, but unfortunately practically none from Punjab, he informed and appealed to heads of institutions and vice chancellors of universities to take bold initiatives in this regard to avail of the liberal funding.

Stressing on the technological advancements, and more importantly spirit of innovation in Israel, its Ambassador to India Dr Ron Malka said being one of its closest friends, India can benefit immensely from Israeli experience. He said research and innovation holds the key to the future of the world and improving the lives of the people. Israel, despite a dearth of natural resources, realised early that its greatest strength is human resource and invested heavily in that. The focus paid off and today Israel is a frontrunner in research, innovation and technology in the world, he emphasised.

Apart from Jere, Poonia and Malka, among the more than 50 eminent speakers who participated in eight different sessions were Prof SK Das, Director, IIT Ropar, Dr. Girish Sahni, former Director General, CSIR; Prof. Anil Wali, MD, Foundation for Innovation & Technology Transfer (FITT) at IIT Delhi; Prof Youngjin Yoo, Department of Design & Innovation, Case Western Reserve University, USA; Ms Ratika Jain, CEO, Global Innovation & Technology Alliance (GITA), New Delhi; Prof (Dr) Henry H Chen, Director S&T Division, Taipei Economic & Cultural Centre in India, Embassy of Taiwan; Dr Vivek Dham, Advisor, Research & Innovation, Delegation of the European Union; Prof (Dr) Graham Ball, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK; Kirtiman Awathi, Senior Policy Advisor, Climate Adaptation & Climate Finance, GIZ India; Karan Bajwa, MD, IBM India & South Asia; and S Balasubramanian, MD, Accenture.

In a startup competition, Chitkara University Rajpura’s Dr Virender Kadyan walked away with the winner’s prize money of Rs 50,000 sponsored by Thapar Institute of Engineering & Technology for his innovation BrilTab – Edukit #Speech Lab. 

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