Recently, some scientists across India participated in a ‘March for Science’ demanding greater budgets for research and curbs on “pseudo-science.” They demanded that the Government of India allot at least 3% of the GDP for scientific and technological research. They also wanted the government to allocate 10% of the GDP for science education.
The protest march by scientists gives an impression that they are aggrieved party and have several grievances. However, discerning observers tend to think that the scientists in India have more reasons to introspect about their performance and contribution to Indian scientific and technological growth, rather than finding fault elsewhere for their lackluster performance.
The fact is that most of the government owned research and development organizations in India survive almost entirely based on the government’s generous fund support and they are not able to turn out many outstanding research output that would enable the organizations to supply their technology and earn income for their organizations to become self-reliant.
Fund support from the government:
CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) promoted and funded by Government of India has completed 75 years of service to the nation.
Having a pan-India presence, CSIR has a network of 38 national laboratories, 39 outreach centers, and 3 Innovation Complexes. About 4600 active scientists supported by about 8000 scientific and technical personnel serve in CSIR.
During the last seven decades of existence, several thousands of crore of rupees of taxpayer’s money has been pumped into the CSIR institutions by Government of India for maintaining and sustaining the research and development activities.
The government of India allocated Rs 7,288 crore in 2015-16 for conducting research, giving a hike of Rs 1,793 crore compared to the budget of 2014-15.
In spite of Government of India asking CSIR labs to become financially self-supporting at least for meeting the salaries and maintenance expenses, several CSIR labs have not been able to do so.
By and large, the objective that the research and development projects should be profit oriented is not being met by CSIR labs.
While it is appropriate that the government should provide generous support to the scientific bodies, such support must result in tangible and economically beneficial results. Today, all over the world, research activities are not anymore considered as an academic exercise but viewed as a commercial activity.
Of the funds allotted by the government, more than 75% is spent towards meeting the salaries and wages of the scientists and other employees and maintenance expenses of the laboratories. CSIR labs are presently reported to be generating only around 10% of the budget through external sources.
The fact is that scientists in the CSIR labs are unable to earn income for their labs by their research efforts commensurate with the investments made by the government and recurring expenses of the government in maintaining the labs year after year for over 75 years now.
The poor track record of innovation:
India is still far behind its Asian counterparts regarding innovation, according to data released by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
India saw a drop in international patent applications to 1,423 under the Patent Cooperation Treaty in 2015, while Japan (44,235), China (29,846) and Korea (14,626) figured in the top-10 list, registering a rise of 20%, 14%, and 7%, respectively, from last year. (Source: WIPO – Statistics database)
Have the protesting scientists forgotten the Dehradun Declaration?
Dehradun Declaration was adopted at the end of a two-day conference of CSIR Directors held at CSIR Indian Institute of Petroleum in Dehradun in the month of June 2015.
During the meeting, it was decided that CSIR labs would devise ways to develop industry driven technologies, including game changing technologies. Each laboratory would also develop at least one technology in the strategic sector for India.
As part of Dehradun Declaration under Union Science Minister’s leadership, the Directors of CSIR labs committed that CSIR would generate about 50% of its budget through external sources.
This has not happened, and no convincing explanation has been offered so far for the failure to achieve the target.
Obviously, management and scientists have to change their mindset and improve their performance standards and produce value from R&D work in keeping with the CSIR mandate.
Scientists need to introspect and not complain:
It is evident that the confidence of the industries and end users in the government owned research institutions and university based research efforts have not been high.
It remains to be seen whether the management and scientists in CSIR labs will reorient themselves with changed outlook and more determination to turn out innovative research findings, that are appropriate to the needs of the country and that would meet the expectations of the industry and end users.
The scientists have more reasons to introspect than to complain.
Contribution of industrial sector in R&D field
The contribution of Indian industries (both private and public sector) to the research efforts in India are also far from adequate.
It is seen that many medium and large scale units do not have dedicated R&D department at all. Quite a number of them have R&D department which is more used for trouble shooting and quality betterment program than for conducting original research.
Long term corporate R&D strategy amongst the industrial houses in India are rare.