TIFAC (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council) is an autonomous body of Dept of Science and Technology(DST), Govt of India based in Delhi. It was conceptualized in 1986 as Technology Think Tank of India by the then planning commission(converted to NITI Aayog few years ago). While giving approval to the formation of TIFAC, it was moved to DST by cabinet. It started functioning in DST, first as a group and in 1988, it became an autonomous body with Dr Y S Rajan as its first executive director(ED), who was also a scientist in DST. The group in DST continued to work in TIFAC even after it came into existence as a separate entity. For some time, it operated out of a temporary building in DST premises(which still exists and is called Old TIFAC bldg) then to a hotel next door and moved to a building inside IIT Delhi campus which is shared between TIFAC and IIT Delhi Dept of Management Studies.
Technology Vision 2020
Unlike news circulating in media, the first Chairman of TIFAC Governing Council(GC) was not Dr Kalam but Dr V Krishnamurty from 1988-93. Dr Kalam became Chairman of GC from 1993-2001. During the tenure of Dr Y S Rajan and Dr Kalam, TIFAC worked on developing Technology Vision 2020 that was released by the then Prime Minister Shri Deve Gowda in 1996. This was a set of around 25 books covering 16-17 sectors of importance to India. Dr Kalam and Dr Rajan also published a book “India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium“, which has been sold in large numbers and continues to be sold through popular outlets. However, set of TIFAC Technology Vision 2020 documents, are not easily available, as it is directly sold by TIFAC through a cumbersome process of purchase.
Initiation of Technology Vision 2035
Sometime in 2010, It was decided that TIFAC should work on a new set of Documents called “Technology Vision 2035″(TV2035). Dr Gautam Goswami from TIFAC was given the responsibility to head the activity. Dr Anil Kakodkar was Chairman of TIFAC, GC from 2011-18. Dr Ramasami was Secretary, DST around this time till May of 2014. An Apex Committee was formed under Dr Kakodkar to oversee the preparation of the document. I joined TIFAC on April 25, 2013 to head the organization as its Executive Director based on a selection committee meeting on Aug 17, 2012. I got a chance to interact with TIFAC scientists during the intervening period to get to know the organization better. Work on Technology Vision 2035 along with other projects was going on. I started to get some information about the activities.
TIFAC decided to invite top scientists of the country (like those with various awards at the national and international levels) and requested them to talk about their vision for the country in 2035. Surprisingly (or should I say as expected), all of them only talked about their own work area and nothing about where they wanted to see the country in the coming decades. Then TIFAC decided to tap young minds and organized interaction sessions with school and college children in different parts of the country. These proved to be much more useful as these young minds wanted to see a better future for themselves and for that country needed to move ahead as well. Based on all these inputs and internal deliberations, TIFAC decided to work on preparing road maps in 12 sectors of importance to the country. For each roadmap, expert committees were formed and they were requested to work in their respective sectors. Each group further subdivided the task among themselves and also co-opted other experts to cover all relevant aspects.
In Oct 2012, TIFAC decided to prepare a summary document consisting of important elements from 12 road maps. For this purpose, it was advised to form an author’s group comprising a science communicator, an industry personnel and a social scientist. Selection of right person was very crucial. Dr. Kakodkar suggested to include Dr. Bal Phondke, the former Director, NISCAIR having excellent communication skills (writing, oral and gesture). He was also an actor in Marathi TV serials. Along with him, Prof. Varun Sahni, the then Vice Chancellor, University of Jammu and Dr. Harit Santhanam, Former Vice President (R&D), Mahindra & Mahindra, Chennai were also inducted in this group. First interaction with this group was in Dr Kakodkar’s office in BARC, Mumbai on June 28, 2013.
During my interactions with TV2035 team before I joined TIFAC in April 2013, I inquired about the comparison of India’s progress with respect to the Technology Vision 2020 document released in 1996. I was told that no such exercise is being carried out. I requested that we carry out such an exercise since without that it is futile to develop such documents. TIFAC team started this “retrospection 2020” work and it became an important part of the document.
My meeting with Dr Kalam
In fact, after joining, TIFAC, I paid a courtesy visit to Dr Kalam. After an initial introductory round, he expressed concern about the falling GDP growth rate. He also mentioned that Technology Vision 2020 is “TIFAC Baby” and we have 7 years to achieve that vision and TIFAC should work hard to move the country towards that vision.
My exposure to Foresight
In March 2013, TIFAC had organized a Indo-UK foresight workshop. I was expected to join TIFAC around that time so I was also invited to participate in the workshop. At the end of 3- day workshop, we had summarized 30 future technology areas. I found myself having worked in 6 of them! So in some sense, I was already working in many futuristic areas. However, what was more important was that it exposed me to various methodologies used to carry out foresight activities e.g. Horizon Scanning etc. I followed up on these to fill the gaps that I had in my understanding.
TIFAC represented India in International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis(IIASA), Vienna. As head of TIFAC, I became a member of IIASA Council. It used to have two meetings – one in June and other in November. This gave me a bit of international exposure where systems modeling was used to focus on the quality of life. I also got invited to participate in a meeting of Govt Foresight Organization Network(GFN) at European Headquarters in Brussels in 2013. I also took this opportunity to visit UK and see at first hand how they carry out foresight work. I also had the opportunity to visit one of the UK defense research organization, where they had good foresight activity. I also offered to host GFN meet in Delhi in 2015. TIFAC team also participated in GFN 2014 meet in Korea. All of this exposure along with sending TIFAC scientists to participate in some of the international workshop boosted our confidence and we became known in International Circle for our work. We also got invite to participate in World Future Society Meet in 2016.
Heading TIFAC as its Executive Director(ED)
After joining TIFAC, finally I got a chance to look at the various draft road maps prepared by committees. In the first TV2035 apex committee meeting, I emphasized on the importance of being able to communicate the document among citizens at large and policymakers, in particular. I mentioned multiple means of communication that is relevant today: (1) Print Media (2) Electronic Media (3) Social Media (4) Internet (5) Workshops etc. Each one of these needed their own way of providing information from the document. On Social media, we need to provide information in short capsules and repeat them frequently. A PDF dumped or a long talk does not get much attention on social media. I also emphasized on the content being organized in a language that a common person can understand and visual appeal of the document was equally important. One should feel like holding the document and going through it rather than keeping it away after having a look. We took this as a challenge and contacted various Govt agencies as well as freelancers to help in this process.
Retrospection : Technology Vision 2020
Retrospection 2020 was to only focus on comparing India’s progress with respect to what was visualized in the document. We felt that we would not get into details of who was responsible for what aspect and only focus on status. This would keep document away from any controversies that may arise by trying to fix responsibilities. I remember original work ran into about 10 pages or so and we felt that we need to convert this into infographics form for easier communication. Finally TIFAC team with the help of designers prepared a nice infographics, which has been a popular slide at the beginning of all my talks on TV2035 that I have delivered across India and outside. Here is the copy of that info graphics, where we compare India’s progress with respect to TV2020 and use horse’s movement to make it understandable.
Author’s Group for TV2035
Author’s group formed to summarize the documents took up task to write out different aspects of the planned summary and then meet for 2-3 days at a stretch periodically to synchronize the various writings into a smooth flowing document. We used to have periodic Apex committee meetings at TIFAC where some of these aspects were discussed too. One meeting was planned in Chennai during April 12-14, 2014 which only had Author’s group along with me and Dr Goswami. We all had planned to stay in a hotel in meeting venue was planned to be a meeting room in Central Lather Research Institute(CLRI), Chennai. I asked Dr Goswami about the time schedule of meeting and he said we would be meeting during normal working hours till about 5:30 PM or so. I felt that it would be appropriate if we booked hotel meeting room and worked as long as we felt like working. This would provide flexibility in terms of time, attire, food and an informal environment. This is very important for creative engagements and many think tanks have special rooms designed for such purposes. Fortunately everyone agreed to this proposal and we worked till late night. This became a game changer and all our meetings were patterned in this fashion. Prof Sahni used to be the one who would control the laptop where all writings/modifications were done and it used to be connected to projector for all of us to see. This was very important as it made sure that writings were in language that was easily understandable. This became one of the important USP of the document that came out of this exercise.
One of the aspects that bothered me was the fact that group had gender imbalance with no women members. I wanted to make sure that we make up for this deficiency. Towards this goal, I started to search for document that would present women’s view towards life. I came across a document that was released by World Economic Forum(WEF) “The Global Gender Gap Report – 2013”.
I also came across a document “World Happiness Report 2013”. In July 2011 the UN General Assembly passed a historic resolution. It invited member countries to measure the happiness of their people and
to use this to help guide their public policies. This was followed in April 2012 by the first UN
high-level meeting on happiness and well-being, chaired by the Prime Minister of Bhutan. At the
same time the first World happiness Report was
published, followed some months later by the OECD Guidelines setting an International standard for the measurement of well-being.
Once in a while I also had discussions with my elder brother Shri Vijoy Prakash, Principal Secretary, Planning and Development, Bihar. One discussion was regarding a “entitlement based model of development”.
Focus on Quality of Life of Indians
These and other documents had profound influence on our thinking. Our document instead of becoming an executive summary of road maps, started to become a stand alone document in its own right and focused on quality of life of Indians. We started to define what is meant by quality of life and various parameters to measure this. We also had long discussions about what should these parameters be called etc. We eventually settled on “Prerogative”. After arranging and rearranging, we finalized 12 prerogatives – top ones were important for each individual and bottom ones were important as collective, as shown in the image below.
We also made a conscious choice to not compare ourselves with other countries and remain focused on India. We only talk about other countries/regions in a chapter towards the end on “Technology : National Comprehensive Power”.
Capacity Building of TIFAC Scientists
In parallel to this work, I started to go through various draft roadmap documents. What struck me was that most of the document could not visualize the kind of technologies that may be available by 2035. Most documents had focused on near term future. I expressed my concern to the committees. Most of them mentioned that they did not have the expertise to visualize future technologies. Then I initiated an internal exercise to do internal training of TIFAC scientists by forming various groups and training each other. Most of them responded positively and a few had to be persuaded to join in the effort.
While we were doing this, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd(IOCL), a large PSU contacted us for learning to do technology forecast in Aug 2013. I took this as an opportunity to not only train them but train ourselves too since teaching is the best way of learning. We planned a 2 day workshop for this and had internal and external speakers as part of this. For internal speakers, we went through rehearsal to improve our quality of presentations. At the beginning of the workshop, I used the term “foresight” instead of “forecast”. One participant vehemently opposed this and said that they had come to learn about “forecast”. I requested him to go through the sessions first. At the end of the session, he opined that we have opened their eyes and all were very happy. We also felt satisfied and more confident.
TIFAC scientists started to contribute to all the documents by visualizing various technologies that were likely to come and how they may impact India. This started to boost the quality of documents and most of them made their way into the main vision document – the document that was supposed to be a summary document.
Technology Table for Prerogatives
For each of the 12 prerogatives, we set some broad targets for the country and some focused targets with very quantitative expectations that took about one to one and a half pages. Each of them was also accompanied by a technology table that had technologies that would be useful in fulfilling that particular prerogative. Of course, many of them would cut across a few of them. We also decided to indicate readiness levels of these technologies with respect to the prerogatives. Instead of using TR1,TR2 etc, we used four terms – “Readily Deployable”, “From Lab to Field”, “Needs Targeted Research” and “In Imagination”. We also had in-depth discussion on what kind of tabular format would be most suitable for these. An example is shown below.
“Readily deployable” were those that could more or less be used off the shelf or with slight adaptation but were not being used much in India. “From Lab to Field” were still in lab stage and needed to be scaled up and economized to be used commercially – an area where India lags too much. “Requiring targeted research” were those areas where we needed to focus like a mission mode work. India has delivered in areas like Space, Atomic Energy and Missiles due to this but most of the other areas, we do not have focused and synchronized effort. NITI Aayog has picked up a large number of these to support in mission mode. The last one “in the imagination” were the ones that we felt were very uncertain and may happen in 20-30 years or may not happen at all but were going to be very disruptive if they happened. What was very interesting that a few of these started to show rapid progress even before the document was formally launched.
We also decided that we would throw certain grand challenges for the country that we must face and overcome. The list of these 10 challenges includes “Guaranteeing Nutritional Security and Eliminating Female and Child Anaemia”. Fortunately, Govt of India launched two major schemes based on these – “Nutrition India” and “Anaemia Mukt Bharat”. Similarly Govt has taken up “Taking the Railway to Leh and Tawang”.
We had few more chapters added to complete the document but now it was no longer a summary document of the road maps in different sectors as was visualized early on but it became a “Vision Document” in its own right. Then I suggested that we align the various road maps in a way that it flows from this Vision Document and provided a roadmap to achieve the vision.
Handing over document to PMO
As we were almost finalizing the document, we had elections in May 2014 and the new Govt took over with a change in the political party on May 26. On June 13-14, 2014 we had a meeting with Dr Kakodkar in BARC, Mumbai to review the status. We discussed that the new govt was in hurry and was looking for new ideas before it moved ahead on the action front. We did not have time to wait now and needed to finish it quickly. One more issue was to get the attention of Govt to this document. TV2020 was launched by PM in 1996. I suggested that we not only request PM to launch the document but also to write the foreword to the document. Ideally, we wanted to launch all the documents together – Vision Document with 12 road maps. But it would have taken time to carry out the final touches needed for the roadmaps as well as to align them to the vision document. So we decided to go ahead with submitting the vision document separately and launch each of the roadmaps in different cities of India to give it an all-India image. At that time Dr Vijayraghavan was given additional charge as Secretary, DST. We briefed him about our plan and he readily agreed to take up the request for both foreword and launch with PMO. He also wanted to see the draft version of the document so that he was familiar with the content. Suddenly on June 27, 2014, we received a request through DST for a copy of Vision 2035 from Secretary, Earth Sciences. After enquiring, we found out that PMO had desired a copy even before we sent any formal request as its mention was made in one of the meetings. We sent the draft version of the document but without the graphics and layout etc being done fully.
Look and Feel of the Document
Matter automatically assumed super urgency now. TIFAC team members spent day/night/weekends working with the designer to give the finishing touches to the document with visual elements and layout done. We reviewed the first layout in a meeting with Dr Kakodkar. He did not seem happy to see it neither was Dr Goswami. They felt it would not look like a serious document and may not have the impact. I suggested that we make some suggestions to the designer to make sure that color/fonts etc are appropriate to the document. The next round of improvement made everyone happy and we finalized the look and feel of the document. While printing we also ensured that proper paper quality is used. In fact, the document became well known in the Central Govt circle for breaking away from the boring looks and we got many inquires about it from organizations like NITI Aayog etc. Sometime in Sept 2014, we handed over the document to PMO with a request to write the foreword and launch it as well. We had many questions from PMO. One of them was about who had asked us to prepare this document. Another one was to show documentary evidence of Technology Vision 2020 being launched by then PM etc. We also sent a draft foreword and then later another one after some weeks. Around Nov 2014, we were told that it would take about 3 months and we may have to make a short presentation to PM etc. However, we did not hear about it and queries did not do much help either. In the summer of 2015, TIFAC was requested to provide technology-related input to India’s climate change commitments in preparation for COP21@Paris later in the year. Shri Sushil Kumar, my Netarhat School Senior, was Addl Secretary, MoEFCC, and was in charge of COP21 related activities. After one of the meetings, I showed him a copy of TV2035. He liked it and asked for a copy. He suggested that he would want PM to release this document in Paris during COP21. My response was that this is a document that was meant for the country and it would be out of context to release it in Paris especially since this was not a document specific to climate issues. He said he would talk to PMO.
Interaction at PMO
Sometime after this, around Aug 27, 2015, we received notification from PMO about a meeting on TV2035 on Sept 8, 2015 with Dr Kakodkar and Secretaries of DST, DBT, DSIR, MoES, ICMR to be present. We tried to inquire from DST if myself and Dr Goswami could be present. They said only those mentioned in the letter can attend! We made a special request and finally on the day of the presentation, we got go-ahead to be present in the meeting. During presentation, Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secy to PMO, mentioned to Dr Kakodkar – “Dr Kakodkar, you are the last word in Science for this country. We should have released this document yesterday when PM was in a conference of Scientists.” That gave us a hint that they would go ahead with our plan of letting PM write foreword as well as launch it.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, DG, ICMR told me that she would like to work on the grand challenge no 1 – “Guaranteeing Nutritional Security and Eliminating Female and Child Anaemia” with us. I agreed and decided to plan this out later with her. There was also a discussion about how to take the agenda forward after the preparation and launch of the document. We mentioned certain action points that TIFAC plans to do.
After this again there was no communication regarding the launch of the document. We were planning a grand launch with a demonstration of the latest technologies in the launch program for which we needed some time to work out. We had discussed with few companies and planned out the event but were not sure how it would be launched and when.
Launch Date Announced!
The later part of 2015 was a very busy time for me and TIFAC as we were involved in a number of events in sequence. We were hosting VIth Annual International Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction during 28th-30th October, 2015 in partnership with International Society for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (IDIRM), Japan and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria. It was a mega event with a large number of international participants and 6 parallel sessions. From Nov 25-27, we were hosting Govt Foresight Network Organization(GFN) meet consisting of participants from different countries. Right after this, we had to take on the responsibility of hosting the first India International Science Festival from Dec 3-8, 2015. This was again a mega event with lakhs of participants and venue was IIT Delhi. From Dec 9-12, 2015 we had to be in Paris to participate in COP21. on Dec 8, we left for Paris after successfully conducting IISF in partnership with Vijnana Bharati. On Dec 13, I returned to Delhi, and while on the way home from the airport, I got a call from DST that PM would be launching TV2035 on Jan 3, 2016 at 103rd Indian Science Congress in Mysore. Suddenly we had to get into high gear to get things done for launch!
LifeScape and TechnoScape
While we were waiting for more than one year to hear back from PMO, we discussed ways to improve the document further without changing the main body that was already handed over to PM. Most of the people after hearing “Technology Vision 2035” thought it was a “vision for technology”. We wanted to break this notion since it actually had become a vision for India based on the aspirations and desires of the young minds of India. We prepared an info graphics to depict some aspects of this aspiration and termed it as “Life in 2035” or LifeScape. This was put in the front cover as spread out and is shown below:
LifeScape : Life in 2035
I also realized that we needed to convey to the readers that this Vision document is part of a set of documents including road maps in 12 sectors. In my write-up to the document, I very prominently mentioned this but in addition to this we made a little booklet “TechnoScape” that had a one-page summary of each of the road maps. This was added in a pocket at the back cover page. It is shown below:
Printing of Document
We asked DST about the foreword from PM so that we could include it in the final print. They said he has signed and we should have received it. We searched and searched and nowhere it was to be found. Then DST scientist also did searching in his office and found that he had kept it nicely in his drawer but had put it upside down and was missing it out every time he searched the drawer! Finally, we put together everything and wanted to get bulk printing done so that not only it could be launched but also distributed. Dr Kakodkar informed that he would not be available for the launch. Dr Goswami had also planned year-end outing with his family. Min of S&T was also having an exhibition stall and we agreed to be part of it to showcase the document. We had no idea about in what way, launch of document would be there. DST could not give much idea about it. I had a 2 minute meeting with Minister of S&T, Dr Harsh Vardhan to brief him about it. He was very happy and wanted a number of copies. He also took personal interest in grand challenge 1 on Anaemia and shared some facts about it.
I along with team of TIFAC members reached Mysore but were in total dark about how the document would be launched. I personally carried about 60-70 Kg weight due to more than 100 copies with me in flight. Rest 100 we distributed among others. The printer had made a mistake while printing lifescape and last night he corrected it and I got copies minutes before I was to leave for Airport!
Chaos at Launch
Mysore was full of participants and all hotels were full and it was difficult to find accommodations for all. On Jan 2, 2016 (one day before launch) also we had very little information about the launch process. Copies of documents were with me and there was chaos all over. Finally around 7 PM, we got information that we need to reach venue as fast as possible before the area is sealed and hand over the documents. We tried to put documents in gift wrap and were not sure it fit would be acceptable by security officials. Eventually, we reached the venue of the launch with tight security. They were very upset saying that they seal the venue 24 hours before the arrival of PM and it was barely 10-12 hours remaining. One senior security officer, who was supervising was bit more sympathetic and took the copies. I asked him, if I needed to hand over the document to PM for which I needed to be in the enclosure. He said my security pass for this purpose was not made. I told him may be Secretary, DST can hand over etc. He told me that in the morning, I can be outside the inner enclosure and inform him (no mobiles were allowed) about my seating place. He would let me know if I needed to hand over the copies directly. By this time it was midnight.
Actual Launch by PM
We all returned to the hotel and went to the venue early morning. There was Chaos at the place with the Security Tag reader not working properly. They were not letting me and TIFAC team enter. Fortunately, one senior Govt official recognized us and somehow managed to let us in. I could manage to alert the Security officer about my seating place, which was at the edge of the second row in the middle to make it easy for him as well as for me to come out if needed.
Finally, the launch moment came. The announcer did not even mention TIFAC name and even one line about the document. It just said two documents were to be launched – one is a book of abstracts and the other Technology Vision 2035. Anyway it was launched by PM eventually even though in a very unceremonious manner!
Those wanting copy of Technology Vision 2035 and released roadmaps can download it from TIFAC website.
My Talk after Launch and Media
I had earlier requested DST to give me a chance to talk about TV2035 and they had agreed and made a lot in an afternoon session. Of course, the crowd had thinned down by then but still, there were thousands of them. Talk went well and we got a good response. Media people wanted a copy of the document and we managed to give it out to many of them. Shri Maan Bardhan Kanth, who was handling media relations on behalf of TIFAC also helped by connecting to his friend in the media circle. They all wanted a soft copy of the document to make it easy for them to copy content and images etc.
Preparation of Technology Vision 2035 was designing the future of India and involved thousands of people directly or indirectly. However, a core group of members worked tirelessly to achieve this. This is shown in the image below.
TV2035 : Key Contributors
I would be writing another set of blogs on post-launch activities as this is already too long!