Reaching for stars: India is betting big on mega, multi-country science projects

On a leafy Colaba street a stone’s throw away from the Gateway of India, stands the Old Yacht Club, a 137-year-old heritage property with stunning views of the Arabian Sea and a timeless air.

This building houses the headquarters of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). For two days this past fortnight, some 70 senior scientists gathered in its rather salubrious settings to talk shop, led by the secretaries of DAE and the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The meeting’s chief purpose was to take stock of the progress in some 10 large-scale, multi-country projects India is part of.

The annual exercise was mostly routine: progress was reported, hurdles and risks discussed, budgets vetted and gains for the nation assessed. However, one thing stood out. There was a lot of emphasis on how these projects must create patents, stoke the startup ecosystem and help the industry. The idea is that India’s expensive scientific pursuits should benefit its economy, in patents and commercial applications.