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India’s tragedy: Science lacks funding and funding lacks science

DC | November 21, 2013, 08.54 am IST


It needed to be shouted from rooftops, and eminent scientist, Prof. C.N.R. Rao, did just this when he used the spotlight he was suddenly under for receiving the Bharat Ratna, and drew attention to the poor funding that research and develo­p­ment (R&D) rece­ived in this country.

His outburst may be just what we need, as going by  an analytical report of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in Septe­mber this year. India spent only 0.87 per cent of its GDP on R&D in 2009-10, when other  BRIC countries like Brazil spent 1.17 per cent, the Russian Federation, 1.25 per cent, China , 1.70 per cent and South Africa, 0.93 per cent on it. 

India may be a little better placed than other  developing countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mexico which spent just 0.5 per cent of their GDP on R & D, but this is obviously not saying much.

In its defence, the Union government points out that funding for scientific res­earch has increased manifold in the past few years even if it nowhere matches that of other BRIC nations or the developed world.  

The DST report says the country’s Gross Exp­end­iture on R&D (GERD) has been rising over the years and  doubled from Rs 24,117.24 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 53,041.30 crore in 2009-10.

It rose to Rs 62,053.47 crore in  2010-11 and Rs 72, 620.44 crore the following year. Added to this India’s per capita R&D expenditure has risen to `Rs 451 (US$ 9.5) in 2009-10 from Rs 217 (US$ 4.8) in 2004-05.

A retired officer of the DST argues that over the last few years successive governments both at the Centre and state have sho­wn genuine interest in funding science, but it is difficult to up the funding stee­ply all at one go. “It is a process,” he maintains.

While acknowleding that India’s most prestigious rese­arch institutes don’t match the best of scientific centres in the developed world, he blames the brain drain it has been experiencing for some years and poor management of these institutes for much of this.

“Even today if you ask a research scholar  in any one of our prestigious inst­itutes including the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), he will tell you he prefers a foreign institute.

Scho­larships and stipends are very attractive in western countries and we cannot match them,” he says, strongly suggesting that those at the helm of affairs do  some introspection on why we have failed to build world class institutes des­pite government funding and the  autonomy they enjoy.

Private sector must invest more

It’s not only governments that become penny wise and pound  foolish when it comes to Research and Development, but also private companies.
Although the Department of Science and Technology ( DST) says business participation in GERD is rising , it is clearly inadequate when compared to what it is capable of.

Going by the DST report, private sector has a share of 34.2 per cent in R &D today, but  private companies are spending just 0.27 per cent their total sales on it, leaving a huge potential untapped.

Moreover, the present spending by private companies is  restricted to R&D activities for their own product development and impr­ovement , notes a scientist. 

“On the one hand  there are complaints that patents received by scientists through  government  supported schemes and  fellowships are sold to private companies for huge sums and on the other major industrial players don’t  support any R&D activity other than for their in- house projects. In western countries it is vice versa. Private companies provide the lion’s share of funding for research,”  he says.

Scientists like him are keen on the private sector investing more in the area as they feel the government needs help in furthering scientific research and cannot be depended on to do it all on its own.

Next: India must export tech: Roddam


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