Notwithstanding hopes or fears, nanotechnology is finally moving beyond the confines of the research laboratories to the marketplace. There is feverish activity as the nanotech-based products begin to enter the market in a big way. Industry majors such as the Tatas, Samsung, Reliance, Thermax and others have introduced a host of products such as nano-based water filters, washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, deodorants and cosmetics. Nanoscale materials are also being used in electronic, magnetic and optoelectronic, biomedical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, energy, catalytic and materials applications.
While there is considerable hype with regard to this new technology, so are the concerns with its perceived risks to environment and human health. No wonder, the government has stepped in by deciding to put in place a regulatory body. The yet-to-be-set up watchdog will undertake a detailed examination of all new nanotech devices—across product categories such as toys and baby products, consumer durables, sports equipment, clothing, electronics and computers—before they are commercially marketed. As nanotechnology is also being used for medicine and health, policy makers in the government insist that the tech must be used safely and there should be greater awareness about nanotech products—something which the nanotech watchdog will do.
But will the government move to set up a watchdog bring about a change in the way this revolutionary technology is perceived? Will the fears surrounding it be dispelled and will it spur the industry to move quickly towards commercialisation? According to the US National Science Foundation, the nanotech market would be approximately $1 trillion worldwide by 2015. “There is a potential for Indian companies to engage in $20 billion worth of products, services and technology during this period,” feels Puneet Mehrotra, director of New Delhi-based industry body called Nano Science and Technology Consortium (NSTC).
Industry however, is somewhat not too enthused by the government move to bring in a regulatory agency. Vivek Sharma, regional vice-president ST India operations and director, India Design Centres says, “Any new disruptive technology invokes concerns along with its huge potential benefits. As the applicability of nanotechnology is quite wide, in certain areas particularly related with health and medicine, which directly impact the health of people, certifying bodies are essential to ensure correct usage, whereas for other areas, it is better to promote free market approach.” According to him, a strict control can be counter-productive to the emergence of this technology; hence it should not be enforced where it is not necessary.