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From Indelible Ink, Generic Drugs to Infant Foods, How CSIR Drove Growth in Independent India

By: Shekhar Mande

Last Updated: August 11, 2022, 11:35 IST

New Delhi, India

The generic pharmaceutical industry owes much to the adoption of favourable patent regime from the 1970s, and to the chemical processes developed in various CSIR labs. (Representational Photo/ Reuters)

The generic pharmaceutical industry owes much to the adoption of favourable patent regime from the 1970s, and to the chemical processes developed in various CSIR labs. (Representational Photo/ Reuters)

Sustainability of all processes used in day-to-day lives, and that in industrial processes are the key challenges for the present science, technology and innovation community. The well-developed science and technology ecosystem in India appears poised to address these challenges

Science, Technology and Innovation has played a crucial role in the development of India in its 75 years of journey. Long period of the colonial rule had robbed India most of her wealth, and more importantly, skills — for employment. Similarly, indigenous technologies were needed for promotion of industry. These would have to be firmly founded on the science, technology and innovation ecosystem. At the time of Independence, very few science and technology organisations existed. The foremost among them was the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which was founded in 1942, and its first Director General SS Bhatnagar had defined the mandate of CSIR as “the scope of work in each laboratory (of CSIR) could perhaps be best described to be of the form of a continuous spectrum, at one end of which research work of the purest academic type and of the highest quality is carried out and at the other, the technical development of processes and equipment proceeds by stages”.

With the adoption of Science, Technology and Innovation at the time of Independence as the primary driver of India’s growth was therefore a welcome step.

Indigenous Technologies for Independent India

Indelible ink

India had adopted democracy as the model of governance. One of the challenges in conducting elections was to prevent frauds, including double voting by the same person. To prevent this, CSIR’s National Physical Laboratory developed the indelible ink, consisting of silver nitrate. The ink has been used in all the elections since 1962, and is also exported to many countries around the world. It remains one of prized gifts of CSIR to the nation.

Initiating Indigenous Chemicals, Generic Drugs & Pharma Industry

Although the roots of the chemical industry in modern India can be traced to the establishment of Bengal Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Ltd by Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, much before Independence, a major impetus was needed in different segments of the chemicals industry.

For example, during the green revolution, in order to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, it was essential to prepare indigenously developed agrochemicals. Three laboratories of CSIR, CSIR-Northeast Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST, then RRL), Jorhat; CSIR- Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT, then RRL), Hyderabad and CSIR-NCL developed several processes for making indigenous agrochemicals, which eventually led to setting up of a public sector company – Hindustan Insecticides Ltd — to produce agrochemical-based on CSIR technologies. Soon after, the government set up a company for producing organic chemicals based on technologies made in CSIR-NCL — the Hindustan Organic Chemicals Ltd — making it the first organic chemicals industry in the country. The close interactions between the chemicals industry and academia have continued over the years.

The generic pharmaceutical industry owes much to the adoption of favourable patent regime from the 1970s, and to the chemical processes developed in various CSIR labs. For example, the CSIR made processes to synthesise AZT, used to treat HIV patients, which could be sold for $2 as against the available worldwide price of $8,000. Then, CIPLA started manufacturing the drug and the rest is proverbial history.

Moreover, many industrial leaders were directly trained in the CSIR labs before they became successful entrepreneurs. These were the founding steps in the formation of a strong generic pharmaceutical industry in India, most of whom collaborated closely with CSIR laboratories, and other academic institutes, in the following years to make drugs affordable.

Role in Developing Infant Foods

The need for high nutritional infant food drove the scientists in 1950s and 1960s to consider milk powder as an attractive option. However, the challenge was that the predominantly used buffalo milk was high in fat content. A committee of international experts by the government considered converting this milk into powder as highly challenging. New technologies were needed to address the problem. CSIR’s Central Food Technology Research Institute then developed processes to remove fat from the milk, and made milk powder. These products were considered fit for consumption after extensive clinical trials conducted in CMC, Vellore, and then consequently adopted by Amul Industries. The infant food market thus went through a major transformation due to this development.

Future of Science, Technology and Innovation

There are many more achievements of science, technology and innovation in the Independent India, which make interesting facts to read. Yet, the challenges for future remain intimidating. Sustainability of all processes used in day-to-day lives, and that in industrial processes, are the key challenges for the present science and technology community. The well-developed technology ecosystem in India appears poised to address these challenges. Support, encouragement and prayers of the public, and those of policy makers, would propel India into a secure future in all these matters.

The writer is a former Director General of CSIR. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:August 11, 2022, 11:14 IST
last updated:August 11, 2022, 11:35 IST