India hopes to earn an annual turnover of a hundred billion dollars through its biotechnology industry by 2015. The present turnover is around six billion dollars.
This ambitious target is the thrust of the National Biotechnology Development Strategy, 2015-2020 which was unveiled by Union Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan on December 30.
Elaborating on the vision, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, K. Vijayraghavan said science and technology have been receiving positive attention from the government. “We got a substantial, 30 per cent, hike in the budget, and luckily, there were no mid term cuts. We are hoping for more allocations in the next budget,” he added.
The minister said the importance of biotechnology was recognised by Atal Bihar Vajpayee when we was the prime minister. “He used to say, Information Technology or IT is India today. Biotechnology or BT is Bharat tomorrow.’’
The strategy document talks about enabling institutes to pursue excellence and create a strong infrastructure for research and development, Vijayraghavan said and added that the challenge was to ensure that India’s biotech products compete with international ones.
“Our dengue diagnostic kit is one such product that has been received well in the market. In India, at least, this product is preferred to imported ones. We need to scale up,’’ he explained. The scientist pointed out that globally, India-made vaccines were popular and that one third of the world’s children had taken at least one India-made vaccine in their lives.
The document also stresses on use-inspired discoveries and the need to document and market traditional knowledge specially with respect to medicines. The aim is to make India a global biotech hub.
Meanwhile, two important biotechnology bills are expected to come before Parliament soon. One is the long awaited Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill, which has been pending since long. The final draft of the bill was made during the end of the previous government’s term. The BRAI bill is important as it will regulate technology concerning transgenic crops. It may be recalled that the moratorium on Bt Brinjal still hasn’t been lifted.
The DNA profiling bill is the other bill which had garnered criticism. This bill would enable the government to collect and store people’s personal data and thus breach their privacy.
“I think we need to create more awareness about this bill. It has nothing to do with the general population, but lays down the standard operating procedure for collecting and analysing forensic data in crimes or natural calamities. At present this area is rather unregulated,’’ explained Vijayraghavan.
He, however, admitted that certain section of the draft were removed after criticism that it could lead to ethnic profiling. For instance, there were the boxes of 'caste' and 'state of origin' to be filled while collecting data.
“It was done to establish the genetic background of the person whose sample was being taken. But since data on genetic background can be compared with the knowledge that is already in the public domain, we removed those elements,’’ the secretary said.