Technological intervention

| | in Oped

Between triumphs and failures is the grey area where intellectual termites eat into the structures of reality. This analogy is apt for our public institutions too

Triumphs are easy to recognise. Failures speak for themselves. Somewhere between triumphs and failures is the grey area where intellectual termites eat into the structures of reality corrosively. It happens because of distorted perceptions. This is a tragedy in which victims can often fight with great tenacity. Victims from their comfort zone do not realise the tenuousness of their position.

This analogy is apt for our public institutions too. The triumph of an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launch, the effective working of the Election Commission and the sheer intellectual range of places such as the India International Centre are worth celebrating.

Insanity and crassness of using religious or caste planks to garner votes are obvious. Inadequate focus of celebrated Indian institutions on Indian issues of development evokes few tears. Their research orientation and end product of skill formation is very often for environments other than India.

Here in comes the catch. What are the intellectual and research resources available to handle Indian developmental issues?

Moving the discussion one step further, a specific elaboration of ground realities may help to show what the problem is. Take technology, for example. The media is full of issues of digitisation but surely there are other facets to the use of technology for national development.

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Bastar and talked of Van Dhan, there has been ceaseless talk of self-help groups and Vikas Kendras. The process of funding literally thousands of such kendras across selected districts is still in the works. At the time of going to Press, a Secretary of the concerned Ministry retired and another Secretary would have just taken over. When the issues roll, it can only be speculatively answered.

The core concept of Van Dhan is assuring the harvester-cum-owner of these products, a minimum fair price. That does not require any technological intervention. What does require a technological intervention is the issue of value addition to these forest products.

Reliable statistics are not available but it seems reasonable to assume that there are not even 50 institutions across the length and breadth of this country which have the capacity to add value to Van Dhan products at an operational level.

Much has been made of the value addition to tamarind, if only the seeds were to be taken out and the rest of the pulp cleaned up. This can be done with bare hands. There is nothing wrong with that. If anything, a technological intervention will expand the mass and value of the product. Such gadgets, if they exist, are still to be brought into the popular domain in adequate measure.

Time has come to take the narrative beyond tamarind. A listing of some products may help. There are Gum Karaya, Myrobalan, Sal seeds and the list can be added by recalling chironji, mahua flower, karanj seeds and more. Beginning from the bottom, once could consider karanj seeds. It begins with the dehusking of karanj seeds.

Kernels are crushed with the help of a hammer mill, dried in an oven at a given temperature and moisture, conducting the transesterification, going on to produce KME from the kernel.

Then, distilled water on KME through water treatment leads to bio-diesel. It is a perfect case for developing indigenous

technology, equipment and product to support this process. Barring sporadic and unrelated efforts, there is much more scope to work in this direction.

We need our technology institutes to focus on such issue. As it stands, such thoughts are not even a subject of political debate.

More examples can be cited. The message is simple: There is a missing link in the chain. Sooner or later, the public psyche is going to catch up with this and what turn it will give to the political processes when that happens on a sufficiently large scale, is anybody's guess.

However, if one thing is clear it is that it will lead to a paradigm shift of the electioneering process, at least at the local level. The road to that may have possibilities of huge overtones of unpleasantness.

Wisdom lies in visualising a future possibility and imaginatively causing course correction.

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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