United States Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, has said technology and innovation is redefining relations between Washington and New Delhi.
Verma said the U.S.-India relations have come a long way since his days at Lehigh.
"In 1990, Cold war era tensions and closed economic policies cast a long shadow on the relationship. The Indian economy was in tatters. The bilateral goods trade with the United States stood at a paltry $5 billon. India, with its foreign reserves falling below USD 1 billion, was forced to accept an emergency IMF bailout. India's principal military partner, the Soviet Union, was itself on the brink of economic and political collapse," said Verma.
"Out of these crises, a new India emerged. A liberalized economy laid the foundations for a more confident and globally integrated India," he added.
Verma said the political relations dramatically improved following President Bill Clinton's landmark visit in 2000.
"The U.S.-India civil nuclear initiative, launched by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh in 2005, marked a watershed moment - the stage was set for the United States and India to become strategic partners. Under the leadership of President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, our partnership is reaching new heights," he added.
Verma said India is now the world's fastest growing major economy and bilateral U.S.-India trade stands at over USD 100 billion.
"By 2030, India will be the world's largest country by population, and the third largest global economy," he added.
The US envoy said defense cooperation, virtually non-existent in 1990, now consists of regular and complex exercises with the world's third largest military, adding the sales of military hardware reached over USD 13 billion in 2015.
"And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Across more than 70 different lines of effort, from smart cities to cyber security to nuclear security to vaccine research, from the depths of the oceans to the farthest reaches of the stars, to Mars and beyond, our cooperation is deeper and more expansive than ever before," said Verma.
"In this wide-ranging partnership, science, technology, and innovation have played an especially vital role bringing our countries closer together," he added in his remarks at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, yesterday.
The US envoy said science and tech diplomacy is not new - during the Cold War, science served a common language that helped bridge political and cultural divides.
"President Kennedy signed the first ever S and T agreement with Japan in 1961. In 1985, when Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the Johnson Space Center in Texas, agreements on space and technological cooperation were the highlights in what was then an otherwise frosty relationship," said Verma.
"In 1985, few could have imagined that the U.S. and India would one day send probes to Mars. But that is in fact what we have done, and I'm proud that we supported each others' missions with navigational and other technical support. Both countries have spacecraft in Martian orbit and our Mars Working Group is working to deepen our understanding of the red planet and beyond," he added.
Verma recalled that he welcomed NASA Administer Charles Bolden, one of the leading champions of the U.S.-India partnership, to India earlier this month to further deepen cooperation
"NASA, in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organization, is working on an ambitious Earth Science mission called NISAR, planned for launch in 2021. NISAR will take unprecedented measurements of our planet's most complex processes, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and landslides; and it will be launched on an Indian rocket," said Verma.
"This is a great example of Indian and American scientists not only satisfying their intellectual curiosity, but pioneering solutions that may one day help save lives," he added.
The US envoy said there is no bigger proponent of our technology cooperation than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"During his visit last month to Washington, Prime Minister Modi met with scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO. The U.S. and India have finalized an agreement to build a LIGO observatory in India, which will help our scientists better understand gravitational waves, black holes, and supernovas - the very origins of our universe," said Verma.
"Prime Minister Modi will visit Washington again this June - his fourth visit to the United States in less than two years - and science and tech cooperation will again be on top of the agenda," he added.
The US envoy said Prime Minister Modi through his landmark 'Digital India' and 'Make in India' initiatives is attempting to harness technology to address India's immense developmental challenges.
"This is why he visited Silicon Valley last year, to discuss with luminaries like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, how India can be the next global digital leader and use technology to leapfrog development. He encouraged all of us to look at ways to harness our great networks of entrepreneurs and innovators to improve the condition of everyday citizens," said Verma.
"I think it's important to highlight what the Prime Minister said, because the challenge he identified is a challenge and call to action for all of us. For those of us who that study or have studied science or engineering, the issues is how can we use new innovations, discoveries and modern technologies to improve the conditions for people living across the globe - how can we make their lives safer, healthier, greener and more efficient. How do we bring science and new learning into the policy domain so it can have the biggest social impact? This is one of the critical challenges of our time,"he added.
Mentioning a few examples, Verma said the US is trying to meet this challenge head on.
"Three weeks ago, I presented 33 awards to Indian innovators as part of the U.S. -India Millennium Alliance. In partnership with USAID, the Millennium Alliance is a public private partnership that leverages Indian creativity and expertise to scale locally developed innovations to benefit populations across India and the world," said Verma.
"This is now a multi-million dollar partnership that is supporting over 60 innovators to help end extreme poverty through seed funding and capacity building services," he added.
The US envoy said one of our recipients is Science for Society, an Indian NGO that developed a cost-effective Solar Conduction Dryer, or SCD, that processes and preserves perishable fruits and vegetables.
"In Maharashtra state, where USAID helped test pilot 50 SCDs, farmers reported an average annual income increase of $1,000 due to additional sales of dehydrated farm produce," he added.
The US envoy said technology and innovation have a critical role to play in the battle against climate change.
"Just last week, India's power and environment ministers joined Secretary Kerry in New York to bring into force the historic climate accord finalized last December in Paris. In line with Prime Minister Modi's goal to reach 175 gigawatts of renewable energy generation by 2022, I am a proud co-chair of the PACESetter Fund which just one component of the USD 2.4 billion dollar PACE program or Partnership to Advance Clean Energy," said Verma.
"The PACEsetter Fund is a joint effort between the U.S. Embassy and the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to fund innovative, small scale renewable energy solutions to bring reliable power to the over 250 million Indians who live off-grid," he added.
Verma further said, "One of the really neat start-ups we helped fund through PACEsetter is called BioLite. Launched in 2009 by two innovators shocked by the prevalence of dangerous wood-fired stoves, BioLite develops and manufactures advanced energy products that make cooking with wood as clean and safe as modern fuels while also providing electricity to charge cell phones and LED lights off-grid."
"With over 30 patents, BioLite is expanding its operations in the Indian state of Odisha to provide clean and safe power to rural customers," he added.
The US envoy said from warfare and communications to health and business, tech is changing the world at a faster pace than ever before.
Verma said the digital revolution has drastically changed how the United States responds to emerging opportunities and challenges.
"Social media for example has given a powerful voice to individuals and communities that resonates across borders. We witnessed this in very dramatic form during the Arab Spring only a few years ago. Terrorist groups like ISIL have also used digital technologies to recruit and radicalize individuals to violence," said Verma.
"But we have also witnessed digital media making positive impacts, such as by strengthening civil society and public debate and making governments more responsive to the needs of their citizens. This is why internet freedom is a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy," he added.
Verma said digital communications have also made the world a smaller place, adding for an American diplomat that means the distance between Washington and his or her host nation capital has become a lot closer.
"Gone are the days of waiting by the teletype machine for instructions from Washington. While I sleep in Delhi, officials high and low in Washington work frantically to fill my blackberry inbox overnight. This is certainly different than what my predecessors experienced," he added.