Minister Harsh Vardhan proposes initiative to build cooperation with South Africa

A new grassroots innovation initiative has been proposed by Union Minister Harsh Vardhan to further entrench science and technology cooperation between India and South Africa. The initiative ‘Mandela-Gandhi Grassroots Innovation Programme’ was proposed in Durban at the 20th-anniversary celebrations of India-South Africa Science and Technology cooperation which began when Nelson Mandela signed the Red Fort Declaration with then Prime Minister Deva Gowde in Delhi in 1997. Minister of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Vardhan said this would be a fitting tribute to the two great leaders’ personalities who placed the well-being of the common man at the heart of human progress and advancement.

“Creating a new eco-system of innovation and technology- led entrepreneurship has become a national movement under the ‘Start-up India’ initiative. Innovation and entrepreneurship have become a new mantra in India towards facilitating and enabling inclusive development and sustainable growth,” he said. “The relationship between India and South Africa today is one of acceleration and expansion and above all is an alliance of trust and conviction,” Vardhan said, adding that he had been inspired by Mandela’s vision two decades ago.

“Soon after India launched the polio eradication program in 1995 in which I was directly involved, Nelson Mandela declared the ‘Kick Polio out of Africa’ movement. Today both nations are free from this dreaded disease,” he said. Harnessing Science and Technology for a better future of people is the new spirit which drives the present India-South Africa cooperation, Vardhan said. In the past, we were focused on ‘attracting best people for science’. Today, our cooperation also includes ‘science for people’ for the benefit of our countries,” he said. Highlighting several more cooperation success stories, Vardhan said that during the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2016, he and South African President Jacob Zuma had reaffirmed the commitment to intensify collaboration across diverse sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries and its peoples.

“Going forward, I am delighted that we are stepping up our cooperation in a substantial way,” he said. Vardhan also commented on India’s participation in the International Square Kilometre Array radio-astronomy project led by South Africa, which he inspected during his three-day visit. “(This) will open an altogether new chapter in our partnership. It will not only lead to cooperation between our astronomers but also provide the opportunity of technology development required for complex instrumentation and engineering systems for the project,” he said.

“I also see India and South Africa coming together in enabling human capacity building required in other African countries that are a part of this mega project. We should now actively work towards this goal under our bilateral framework,” he said. Among the projects Vardhan suggested for further cooperation were capacity building through training and exchange programmes; ad utilising current opportunities for South African researchers and students to study, work and teach in Indian academic institutions and laboratories.