Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Don't screw up

Tata group, unlike many other Indian business houses, is trusted and widely respected in India. It is known to be deeply into philanthropy and takes its CSR seriously. It runs several charitable, educational and scientific trusts and institutions including TIFR, TISS, Tata Memorial Hospital that aid social and community development in a big way. The city of Jamshedpur is powered by Tata Steel and it stands in stark contrast to the poverty stricken state of Jharkhand to which it belongs.

So when Ratan Tata decided to bankroll ($80 mm) the HPC project mooted by Dr.Narendra Karmarkar late last year, the whole nation felt proud and patriotic. Dr.Karmarkar was to lead a team of scientists who are part of an ambitious project to create India’s answer to the newer, faster supercomputer. It’s a race that involves all the major superpowers in the world — the US, Japan and China – that were betting millions of dollars to push up super computing speeds to over 1,000 tera flops (one peta flop). Experts say once this new supercomputer is ready, it will open up an exciting new range of applications in biotechnology, defense and even weather forecasting.

But this morning, the headlines blared something else. Hinging on IP issues, Dr.Karmarkar is opting out of it. The report says Dr.Karmarkar wanted it to be a socially relevant project, while TATA group wanted to just play a VC role. VCs may be loath to extra ‘philanthropic’ baggage imposed on them by the inventor, but do we need tell TATA about the merits of long term investment? Considering the significance of this project and its long term benefits, we want both of them to reconcile and find a middle path.

Rarely do we get a combination like this. For heavens’ sake, don’t screw up….

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