Speaking at a videoconference on National Technology Day, Saraswat called on the DRDO to provide “more focus” on its six laboratories that work on life sciences.
While Saraswat did not directly suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic was related to biological warfare, it is significant that the government is exhorting military laboratories to work concertedly on biological defence.
India is one of the 183 signatories to the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975 (BWC), which bans the possession of “biological agents and toxins” except for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes”. While banning the development or possession of offensive biological weapons, the BWC permits member countries to develop defensive biological means.
The DRDO operates six laboratories under its “life sciences cluster”. These include Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL), Bengaluru; Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research (DIBER), Haldwani; Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), Mysore; Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), Delhi; Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR); and Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR), Delhi.
Speaking on the occasion, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh congratulated the DRDO for “tackling the challenges posed by Covid-19 using state-of-the-art technology”.
“The DRDO has developed more than 50 products in the last three-four months, like bio suit, sanitizer-dispenser, PPE (personal protection equipment) kits,” he said.
On Sunday, the DRDO announced the development of an “automated contactless UVC sanitiszation cabinet, called the Defence Research Ultraviolet Sanitiser (DRUVS)”, which sanitizes mobile phones, iPads, laptops, currency notes, cheque leafs, challans, passbooks and papers without physical contact.
On May 4, the DRDO unveiled an “Ultra Violet (UV) Disinfection Tower” for chemical-free disinfection of infection-prone surfaces in laboratories and offices, such as computers, printers and scanners. Using UV waves, the tower disinfects a small room in 10 minutes and a large room in 30 minutes.
On April 14, the DRDO unveiled a Covid-19 Sample Collection Kiosk (COVSACK), which allows health workers to collect samples from patients without wearing PPE kits, since the kiosk’s shielding screen protects the medical worker from the aerosols of the patient while taking the sample.
National Technology Day is observed on May 11 every year to commemorate the 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran and to underline the need for self-reliance in critical areas.