Taking a leaf out of his predecessor Rajiv Gandhi's penchant for science, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is working on a national plan to make India a scientific powerhouse in 10 years.
Singh's idea is to produce technology-based advancements that would feed into the country's industries, agriculture, defence and hospitals to push forward innovation and productivity. He has asked eight ministries and departments to trot out a multi-factorial programme being directly managed by his South Block office.
Insiders say Singh rues the fact that India's Nehru-era scientific enthusiasm has long waned. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, set up a string of scientific institutions, while Rajiv Gandhi talked of “taking India into the 21st century" through technology missions.
Singh wants cutting-edge research to come out from industrial science and space technology. He also wants output of scientific peer-reviewed literature to crank up.
However, unhappy scientists seldom produce any science. Therefore, Singh recently asked the finance ministry to urgently resolve a pension row of 1,000 government scientists.
One indicator of scientific prowess is a country's published work. Singh has asked for India's contributions to global journals to go up to 10%, from about 2% now. In 2007, America's share of global research publications stood at 28%. The EU's collective output stood at 37%, whereas China contributed 10% and Brazil 60%.
Big science requires big spends. One measure of this is the gross domestic expenditure on research and development (R&D). India's investment in R&D is less than 1% of its GDP. The government is contemplating to increase this to 2% of GDP by the end of 12th Five Year Plan. In 2007, Japan spent 3.4% of its GDP on R&D, while America spent 2.7%
“The PMO is pushing to increasing private sector investment in R&D from the current level of 20% to at least 50%,” senior PMO official Binoy Job said.