India’s R&D: Lacking emphasis, funds

Notwithstanding the launch of Chandrayan-22 to make a soft landing on Moon putting India in the 4-nation Club, and getting global recognition of the country’s achievements, this may not be the true picture as far as fundamental research in science and technology is concerned, which may not augur well for the country.

The launch of Chandrayan-2 is undoubtedly a remarkable achievement by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). So far, ISRO has had four classes of rockets – SLV, ASLV, PSLV and GSLV. And GSLV-Mk III is the heaviest rocket it has built. It is understood that India has planned seven inter-planetary missions in the next 10 years or so, starting with Xposat to study cosmic radiation in 2020.

However, in a recent interview, the state of funds to Indian science was a subject of discussion. It is understood that while Japan spends 4 per cent, the US and Germany 5 per cent each of their GDP on the advancement of science and technology, India contribution has been less than one per cent. Obviously, scientists feel that it is rather impossible to surge ahead with this meagre allocation.

It is a well-known fact that modern science does not operate from the backyard, they operate from the frontlines. It is thus necessary for the government to ensure greater fund allocation so that innovations are translated into reality. Moreover, inclusive planning and proper utilisation of funds has to be ensured. It may be mentioned here that only institutions with great hype get a large share of funds whereas those located in semi-urban areas or small cities do not get the required funds. This imbalance has to be corrected and wherever the need is genuine, allocation should be made judiciously.

Delving into history, Nehru encouraged scientists in a big way and at his initiative the department of atomic energy was created with Dr. Homi J. Bhaba as its head. At that time, even when resource crunch was broadly manifest, science received its due attention. Also one may mention the name of scientists and entrepreneur, Dr.  Vikram Sarabhai and also eminent physicist, Dr. Meghnad Saha, who were closely associated with Nehru and his scientific vision to build a modern India.

Today, however, the situation is not the same and scientists do not have the courage or authority to take a bold step. Moreover, innovativeness is also lacking as scientists are not just deprived of funds but are also removed from positions of authority, even in scientific institutions with bureaucrats heading them. One may mention here that though the Director General of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) is an officer in the rank of Secretary to the Government of India, a Jt. Secretary is looking after the administration and calling the shots.

Experts have opined that trivial technology has got precedence over far-reaching science. The result of this is that though there are few employment opportunities for engineers, students prefer studying B. Tech. than going into general science and specializing in areas such as nuclear physics, marine chemistry, oceanography, environmental science, aviation science, Himalayan geology, etc.

In Western countries, massive amounts are spent to guide and sponsor research. Moreover, several institutions in the US, Germany and Japan are funded by the corporate sector whereas the situation is pitiable compared to our country. Corporate houses are not interested in funding fundamental research as they by and large want to make cheap money through instates of hotel management, general management, hospital management etc. Also it would not out of context to mention that corporates are not educated enough, like their counterparts in the West, to delve into modern science and select an area for funding research.

A recent report of corporates not adhering to CSR funding has highlighted the fact that government may impose penalty on them. In this connection, the government should issue directives to corporates to consider funding research to institutions in areas where they operate and work. The R&D could then be gainfully used by the company.

It is, however, good to hear that the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister in a report report titled ‘R & D Expenditure Ecosystem’ has rightly pointed out that growth in R&D expenditure should be commensurate with economic growth and should be targeted to reach 2 per cent of the GDP by 2022. The EAC-PM stated that the line ministries at the Centre could be mandated to allocate certain percentage of their budget for research and innovation for developing and deploying technologies as per the priorities of the respective ministries.

It pointed out that India’s public investment in R&D as a fraction of GDP remained stagnant at around 0.6 to 0.7 over the last two decades. This is well below the major countries such as the US (2.8 per cent), China (2.1 per cent), Israel (4.3 per cent) and Korea (4.2 per cent), the report revealed.

Stimulating private sector’s investment in R&D from current 0.35 per cent of GDP was imperative and, as such, the report suggested that a minimum percentage of turnover of the company needs to be invested in R&D by medium and large enterprises in India.  According to the report, it would be appropriate if States partner with the Centre to jointly fund research and innovation programmes through socially designed Central Sponsored Schemes (CSS).

Another interesting report found that India improved its rank by five places to stand at 52nd in an index of the world’s most innovative economies and maintained its position as the top exporter of IT services by the Global Innovative Index (GII) ranks 129 economies based on 80 indicators. The country improved its position the most in certain pillars including labour productivity growth, knowledge and technology outputs and intellectual property related variables.

It also witnessed improvements in institutions, human capital and research and market sophistication indicators. However, it needs to be pointed out that a vast country like India with highly educated scientists and engineers should at least find a place among the top 25 countries.

Thus keeping in view global trends, it is imperative that India has to catch up. China is far much ahead of India in all branches of science and technology, except possibly space technology. Obviously, there is a need for more funds on fundamental research in science and setting up more such institutions all over the country. Also, owners of private engineering and management colleges should be motivated – if necessary, forced – to set up a scientific institution with facilities for research.


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