Quantum computing to gene mapping: New tech to the fore in budget

FM announced allocation of ₹8,000 crore over a period of five years for setting up a national mission on quantum technology and its application.

Nirmala
The NSO has pegged economic growth at 5 per cent in 2019-20 in its second advance estimates | PTI File

The emerging technologies like quantum computing, big data analytics and artificial intelligence are no more confined to high-tech research labs at universities and leading technology firms but have entered the arena of governance.

They have tremendous potential to improve governance, be it in the delivery of citizen services, improving the collection of revenues, monitoring the implementation of welfare programmes or health care research.

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For instance, data analytics tools are used to plug leakages in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) collections and catch defaulters.

These technologies, which are re-writing rules of the world economic order and disrupting the established business models, found a pride of place in the budget speech of the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Quantum Technology Mission

A quantum computer can solve complex problems that would otherwise take billions of years for today’s computers to solve. This has massive implications for research in health care, energy, environmental systems, smart materials and many more.

While presenting the annual budget for 2020-21, the Finance Minister announced allocation of ₹8,000 crore over a period of five years for setting up a national mission on quantum technology and its application.

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The idea is to build home-grown capability in quantum technologies. This is expected to propel India among the world leaders in quantum computing and its related applications and help it to become the third-largest country to make such an effort.

“Quantum technology is opening up new frontiers in computing, communications, cybersecurity with spread applications. It is expected that a lot of commercial applications would emerge from theoretical constructs which are developing in this area,” Sitharaman said.

The Ministry of Electronics and IT had earlier signed an agreement with Israel for joint research in 27 possible areas which includes quantum computing as one of the potential segments. “India would probably be the third biggest and pioneering nation if we are able to break into this technology of quantum technology related computing and other applications,” Sitharaman said.

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At present, most of the investments in this area are in the United States. However, the global leaders like IBM and Google have drawn up plans to make massive investments in Asia. India could take advantage of this sector if it puts in place an enabling eco-system. Indian technology service providers have also been carrying out research and development work in quantum computing in view of the huge potential.

In October last year, Google became the first company in the world to achieve quantum supremacy after its 54-qubit sycamore processor was able to perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years. In 2018, China claimed that it has built a quantum computer and also launched a quantum satellite into space.

Bharatnet

The Minister has also earmarked ₹6,000 crore in the budget for Bharatnet programme which seeks to provide an affordable broadband connectivity of 2 Mbps to 20 Mbps for all households.

“Our vision is that all public institutions at Gram Panchayat level such as Anganwadis, health and wellness centres, government schools, PDS outlets, post offices and police stations will be provided with digital connectivity. So, Fibre to the Home (FTTH) connections through Bharatnet will link one lakh gram panchayats this year,” she said.

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A policy will be framed soon to enable private sector to build data centre parks throughout the country. “It will enable our firms to skilfully incorporate data in every step of their value chains,” Sitharaman said.

A digital platform would be promoted to facilitate seamless application and capture of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). Also, an exclusive centre would be set up in one of the Institutes of Excellence to work on the complexity and innovation in the field of intellectual property.

Knowledge translation clusters would be set up across different technology sectors including new and emerging areas, the Minister announced.

Small scale manufacturing facilities would be established for designing, fabrication and validation of proof of concept and further scaling up technology clusters.

Science Schemes

Pointing out how mapping of India’s genetic landscape was critical for next-generation medicine, agriculture and for biodiversity management, she proposed two new national level Science Schemes to create a comprehensive database.

This is part of India’s first human genome mapping project being undertaken by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). It involves scanning of 20,000 Indian genomes in the next five years in order to develop diagnostic tests and effective therapies for treating diseases like cancer.

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The first phase of the project involves sequencing the complete genomes of 10,000 healthy Indians and the second phase covers genome sequencing of 10,000 individuals suffering from certain diseases.

The data on human sequencing would be accessible to researchers through a proposed National Biological Data Centre envisaged in Biological Data Storage, Access and Sharing Policy.

Through genome sequencing methodology, researchers can easily detect the disease related to a genetic disorder. The genome project would help in improving the techniques of genetic screening for diseases prior to birth.

Helping start-ups

The government proposes to provide early life funding, including a seed fund, to support ideation and development of early-stage start-ups.

“We need to expand the base for knowledge-driven enterprises. Intellectual property creation and protection will play an important role. Several measures are proposed in this regard, which will benefit the start-ups,” Sitharaman said.

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