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IMPRINT: Accelerating research and innovation

Vrushal Pendharkar

A first-of-its-kind Pan-IIT and IISc joint initiative supported by the Ministry of Human Resource Department (MHRD).

IMPRINT India  (Photo: IMPRINT India)

Launched in November 2015, the IMPRINT Initiative aims to provide solutions to relevant engineering problems and challenges facing India by converting existing knowledge into viable technology. At the launch of the IMPRINT (IMPacting Research INnovation and Technology) program in Delhi, the Prime Minister said It’s important to look towards affordable technology, science is universal but technology has to be local.”

IMPRINT is a novel initiative supported by the Ministry of Human Resource Department (MHRD). It is a collaboration between various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore.
Ten socially relevant domains of research come under the purview of IMPRINT: healthcare, information and technology, energy, sustainable habitat , nanotechnology and hardware, advanced materials, manufacturing, security and defence, water resource and river systems, environmental science and climate change.
IIT Kanpur has been designated as the National Coordinator of IMPRINT. Scientists and faculty from the IITs and IISc have been chosen and appointed as coordinators of the various domains. They will be supervised by AK Singh of IIT Kanpur, the National Convenor of the programme.

IndiaBioscience spoke to AK Singh whose role has involved working with the Ministry on a daily basis. He is expected to pass on the information about the programme to various domain coordinators. He said that MHRD has been involved in all stages of the formation of the programme. He has also worked closely with Indranil Manna, Director, IIT Kanpur and National IMPRINT Coordinator, in identifying the coordinators for the different domains, forming a road map and executing the various exercises of the programme.

Each domain has been further divided into sub-themes, targets and topics keeping in mind the programme’s two point mandate — to develop a new engineering education policy for the undergraduate level, and to create a blueprint of engineering solutions that can be converted into applied technology. The underlying philosophy behind the initiative is the premise that for inclusive growth, there must be great synergy between science, engineering, technology and society. Academia must pursue new knowledge, research organisations should come up with new innovations and the industry should be able to absorb this knowledge and innovation in order to develop new technology which will enable it to produce goods and services that would be competitive as well as serve the society and the nation.
To understand the current position and working status of IMPRINT, IndiaBioscience also spoke to a few coordinators of different domains. To begin with, the coordinators and their teams deliberated on the points and guidelines put forth by the MHRD. Arindam Biswas of IIT Roorkee, who works in the domain of sustainable habitat, said there were a lot of brainstorming sessions to come up with immediate interventions” in some sub-themes as it would not be possible for all the themes to be addressed at the same time. In addition, successful human resource education policies from advanced countries were being studied to come up with an education policy to cater to Indian needs. Biswas added that there is a need to have multi-disciplinary proposals to come up with new education guidelines. His team also proposes to develop various models to measure the various goals and targets set by different government agencies that will help in more efficient monitoring of the programme.The coordinators have also been making sure that there are sufficient funds to carry out the selected proposals. They can throw open the solutions to industry to take this forward at a later stage. The teams are also expected to come up with educational policy guidelines by middle of the year so they can be incorporated into present curriculae.

The government has reportedly announced a budget of Rs.1000 crores for the initial phase of IMPRINT. Its success largely depends on whether the selected domains can come up with variable technology solutions in collaboration with various ministries, agencies and industries. It is set up to be a single window clearance to screen research proposals from India’s research and technology institutes. In the lead up to the formation of IMPRINT many scientists and researchers noted that bureaucracy was often delaying projects and discouraging Institutes from pursuing them, hence the need for a one-stop shop. While IMPRINT will be steered initially by IITs and IISc, it is hoped that the entire engineering fraternity including national academies, government ministries and departments, research organizations, strategic sectors and industry will ultimately come together and own collective responsibility. Although it is led by MHRD, the Ministry of Defense, Department of Science and Technology, Department of BioTechnology and the Ministry of Rural Development, amongst others, are a part of the initiative.

The first phase of IMPRINT is concerned with creating a blueprint of the engineering educational policy of the country covering pedagogy, teaching, curriculum, technology-benchmarking and infrastructure readiness. The actual engineering technology pursuit will commence in the second phase. For example, in the healthcare sector, India imports practically all the diagnostic machinery simply because it is not manufactured here. But there is new research being carried out which, once scaled up, can change this.

Rangan Banerjee of IIT Bombay who oversees the energy domain said, that, as the domain coordinator, he has had an opportunity to link people across various institutes. His team will also be screening various proposals to see which fit with the themes for their domain. Banerjee also mentioned how various Ministries associated with the domain like the Ministry of Power, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy will be involved in the future course of action.
IMPRINT is an ambitious initiative which aims to link the top engineering and scientific institutions and work closely with the concerned Ministries to come up with a solid roadmap to guide India to a path of successful growth by addressing its technology needs. In AK Singh’s words, the ball now is in the court of the identified teams and academics to come up with proposals that can translate into applied research and not fundamental research. The implementation of the findings will be government’s responsibility but the onus is on the scientists to use their vast knowledge database to come up with innovation in products and processes in the identified fields.”