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business leaders > profiles > Dr Raghunath Anant Mashelkar
Dr Raghunath Anant Mashelkar
"The 'I' in every Indian must stand for innovation"
"The 'I' in every individual Indian must stand for innovation. It is only this innovative India that will signal to the rest of the world, that we are not a hesitant nation, unsure of our place in the new global order, but a confident one, that is raring to go and be a leader in the comity of nations," declared Dr Raghunath Anant Mashelkar at the JRD Tata corporate

leadership award lecture in 1999.

Considered India's foremost technocrat, Mashelkar is the director general of the premier Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the largest chain of industrial research and development institutions in the world with 38 laboratories and 22,000 employees.

Mashelkar is as well-known for his administrative skills as for his scientific prowess. He has single-handedly turned around the fortunes of CSIR and transformed it into the premier research institute that it is today. He has initiated a nation-wide campaign to create an enterprise culture that brings science and industry together to benefit the country.

His achievements in science and research, and intellectual property rights issues have won him global recognition. His pivotal role in shaping the direction of science and technology in India has won him several prestigious honours:

  • Padma Shri in 1991 and the Padma Bhushan in 2000, among India's highest civilian honours
  • He is one of only three Indian engineers to have been elected as a Fellow of Royal Society (FRS), London in 1998
  • Elected Foreign Fellow of US National Academy of Science in 2005, being only the eighth Indian to have been elected after 1863
  • Foreign Fellow of the US National Academy of Engineering in 2003
  • Fellow of Third World Academy of Engineering, UK in 1996
  • Fellow of World Academy of Art and Science, USA in 2000

Born into an extremely poor family, Mashelkar's story is one of determination and fortitude. An excellent student, he had to struggle to finish his education because his mother could not afford to send him to college. A timely scholarship from the Tata Trust in 1960 helped him finish his engineering and doctorate degrees. He was awarded a doctorate in chemical engineering from Bombay University in 1969 and has worked in various academic capacities in Europe and the US such as lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Salford in England and visiting professor at the University of Delaware in the US.

In 1976 he returned to India at the behest of prime minister Indira Gandhi to join the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL). He went on to become the director of NCL, steering the institute to meet international standards. Today its reserch products and services are sought by multinational companies. Mashelkar instituted a polymer science and engineering division in NCL that is considered among the best in the world today.

Turning around CSIR
When Mashelkar took over the reins at CSIR in 1995, the institute was steeped in outdated policies. With his customary dynamism, he conceived a plan to transform CSIR into a best in class institute. His white paper CSIR 2001: Vision and strategy ushered in an era of performance and innovation.

He outlined a plan to develop CSIR into a corporate-like R&D centre and transformed it into an organisation focused on conversion of knowledge into wealth for bettering society. This change has been heralded as one of the 10 most significant achievements in the field of science and technology in India in the 20th century.

A staunch advocate of protecting India's intellectual property rights, Mashelkar turned the focus of research at CSIR into developing affordable, user-friendly products. The intellectual property rights management policy of CSIR resulted in it occupying the first place in patent filings among developing nations in 2002. It also accounted for 40 per cent of all the US patents granted to Indians in 2002.

Under his dynamic stewardship, CSIR has doubled its turnover in 10 years, since 1995 and its researchers received 196 patents in 2004, up from eight in 1995. As Mashelkar puts it, "India developed nothing in the 20th century. The 21st century has to be different."

Mashelkar has been rooting for a strong intellectual property rights (IPR) regime in India for over a decade. His strategy for IPR in India is primarily focused on the protection of the interests of the poor and equitable sharing of resources. "Knowledge without innovation is of no value. It is through the process of innovation alone that knowledge is converted into wealth and social good, and this process takes place from firm to farm," he states succinctly.

His campaign has increased awareness about intellectual property rights among the Indian scientific community and has helped design the science and technology policy in India. He waged a successful campaign against the US patent on the use of turmeric for healing wounds. A major milestone, this case was the basis of a new prototype in the protection of India's traditional knowledge wealth.

The turmeric case was path breaking because it led to the first revocation by the US Patent and Trademark Office of a US patent based on traditional knowledge in the third world. As a result, India's first traditional knowledge digital library was established to protect knowledge from bio-piracy. Mashelkar's success also spurred a change in the 'international patent clarification system' to give traditional knowledge the place that it deserves.

Mashelkar popularised the issue of IPR in India in his official capacity as chairman of the standing committee on information technology of World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and as a member of the International Intellectual Property Rights Commission. He is also the vice chairman of the commission on intellectual property rights innovation and public health (CIPIH) established by the World Health Organisation.

Ranked among '50 most influential people in the world'
In 2005 he was ranked among the '50 most influential people in the world' in intellectual property rights by the international magazine Managing Intellectual Property. The citation says, "Dr Mashelkar is India's foremost IP specialist, whose influence spans the local, the national and the international."

"Nations that do not create knowledge societies will vanish into oblivion. But those that do create these knowledge societies will have the potential to lead the world," he declared emphatically at the 16th Dr C D Deshmukh memorial lecture in 1999. He believes that once the process of creating knowledge systems is in place, India can become a leader.

Mashelkar was instrumental in setting up the National Innovation Foundation in 2000, an organisation to facilitate and appreciate grass root innovators. Many developing countries have adopted this model because of its resounding success. Mashelkar urges Indian scientists to publish, patent and prosper rather than just publish. He reasons that, "If Indian society has to become a knowledge society, then it is important that every Indian becomes a knowledge worker."

Before donning the mantle of a scientific administrator, Mashelkar was known the world over for his pioneering research in polymer science. He has made groundbreaking contributions in non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, gel science and polymer reaction engineering.

His research in transport phenomena, thermodynamics of swelling, super swelling and shrinking polymers, modelling of polymerisation reactors, and engineering analysis of non-Newtonian flows is regarded as the benchmark for polymer scientists globally.

Mashelkar has more than 230 research publications and 20 books to his credit. In recognition of his exemplary work, he has been honoured with the honorary doctorate in science by over a dozen universities including universities of London, Salford, Pretoria, Delhi and Wisconsin.

A dynamic, multifaceted personality, Mashelkar has created history in all that he is involved. He has been an instrument of change in post-liberalisation India. He has relentlessly taken up the cause of the poor and developing nations. He has chaired several high-powered committees looking into diverse issues like higher education, national auto fuel policy, rectifying the Indian drug regulatory system, coping with spurious drugs, etc.

Mashelkar is a scientist, administrator, technocrat, activist and visionary all rolled into one. A true leader, Mashelkar embodies Mahatma Gandhi's advice: "Be the change you want to see in the world".

Compiled by Vibha Rao

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Awards and honours

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