This 1965 stamp depicts the famed Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Trombay, Mumbai Image Credit: Shutterstock

The official portal of the Government of India (India.gov.in) calls it “natural philosophy” — apparently, that’s the term used for science and technology in ancient India. Back then, it was pursued “vigorously” and, after the country’s independence in 1947, this “innate ability to perform creatively in science came to be backed with an institutional setup and strong state support”.
Here we present a sampling of that creativity in full flow. While the debate may continue on topics such as India’s contribution to inventing the zero, there is no denying the nation’s achievements in science and technology — identified with the help of three industry experts.

Microland founder Pradeep Kar has been active in the technology sector since the mid eighties and is a frequent speaker at industry events.Jaspreet Bindra, after a 25-year career at start-ups and large organisations such as Microsoft and Baazee.com, is an angel investor, a mentor and more. Jawahar Bekay has founded and worked at IT companies over three decades and now nurtures a process automation start-up and mentors entrepreneurs. 

Nuclear start

The launch of the Atomic Energy Establishment in January 1954 helped India develop an indigenous nuclear capability for power, peace and deterrence. Renamed the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 1967 in memory of the nuclear physicist Dr Homi J. Bhabha, the facility also does extensive research on the use of isotopes and has contributed to advances in medicine and agriculture. 

Satellite launch

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) epitomises frugal engineering, while giving the country immense confidence. Aryabhata, launched in 1975, may be its first satellite, but it was sent to space on a Russian rocket. More significant was the launch of the Rohini RS-1 satellite in July 1980, which used an Indian-made satellite launch vehicle (SLV). This paved the way for ISRO and India to become a space power, culminating in the world record launch of 104 satellites by a single rocket this year.

Mobile history

West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu telephoned the Union Communications Minister Sukh Ram on July 31, 1995. It was the nation’s first mobile call and was carried over Modi Telstra’s MobileNet GSM network. While the key players have long since faded away, the mobile revolution that followed the historic call has transformed India — a billion phones, digital money and a trillion selfies. Things have been helped along by the National Telecommunications Policy 1994, which began deregulating the monopolistic telecom industry and opened the doors to private players. 

Y2K mania

A superbug was never so welcome. While the year 1999 turned to 2000 peacefully and uneventfully, it helped put the fledgling Indian IT industry on the global map. The race to squash Y2K, aka the millennium bug, launched the $150-billion (Dh551 billion) outsourcing industry that now contributes 9.5 per cent to India’s GDP. It also made Bengaluru a verb and brought the word H1B into our lexicon. The sectors have projected India as a modern, tech-centric nation. 

Start-up hub

Andhra Pradesh resident V.V.K. Chandra’s order of John Wood’s book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, was delivered ten days after he ordered it on October 22, for Rs500 (about Dh29). About ten days earlier, Sachin and Binny Bansal had founded the e-commerce retailer Flipkart after leaving their cushy jobs at Amazon. A decade later, no matter what happens to Flipkart in the face of the Amazon juggernaut, it is safe to say India’s first unicorn has inspired hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, turning the country into the third-largest tech start-up hub in the world.

Digital nation

With more than 1.15 billion Indians enrolled, Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric database of individuals. Launched in 2009 as an attached office of Planning Commission, it provides Indians with a unique and verified digital identity and, by linking an individual’s Aadhaar number to the Income Tax Permanent Account Number and bank account, it aims to cut down on leakages and fraud such as fake voters and bogus beneficiaries of welfare schemes. The initiative has reportedly saved the exchequer Rs360 billion in just one year. And with the current government enthusiastically backing it, Aadhaar could eventually become the only identity card that matters.