Why CSIR and other science labs should be given more funds, not less
The cutting of funds to research labs, such as those under the CSIR, will make it harder for researchers to continue to work in the countryeditorials Updated: Jun 07, 2017 00:13 IST
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is among the country’s largest research and development organisations. This year a letter from the director general has informed all of its 38 that they will have to generate their own funds to keep the labs running. This has been the trend since 2015, when as part of the Dehradun Declaration, the CSIR decided that about 50% of its budget would have to be raised from external sources. This, coupled with the 7th pay commission requirements, has left the CSIR with only Rs.360 crore instead of the usual Rs.1,400 crore annual budget for research labs this year. All indications are that this fund crunch is expected to continue in the years to come.
Higher science in India is already a very under nourished area. In many colleges and universities, even basic equipment and materials are hard to come by. The state of labs in premier universities for masters and doctoral scholars leaves much to be desired. At a time when countries such as China and South Korea are increasing the funding allocated to cutting edge research in science, India’s cutting the budget will make it that much harder to compete in an international stage. This puts additional pressure on CSIR-funded research labs to raise funding from the industry. The pressure to conduct research in only those areas which are profitable and can be sold to the industry will make it harder for scientists to focus on areas of fundamental research in core sciences that may or may not have profitable applications.
In attempting to make academic research more industry-friendly, the government and CSIR must not lose track of the ultimate aim of research which is to push the boundaries of human understanding and scientific knowledge. Fund cuts to higher education, be it in the sciences or in the liberal arts and humanities, will only make it harder for researchers to continue to work in the country. Many scholars will look to other countries with better funding to migrate to. In order to prevent such a brain drain, there needs to be more investment in research, not less. Countries such as China have special incentives for researchers who wish to return to their country to pursue research. India must also strive to provide a conducive environment for advanced research.