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China overtaking Indian science, says PM

Noting that India's position in the field of science has been overtaken by China, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today sought an increase in spending on scientific research to at least 2% of GDP. Priya Ranjan Sahu reports.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2012 16:27 IST
Priya Ranjan Sahu

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday outlined major increase in investment in research and development (R&D); expansion of basic science infrastructure; greater alignment of science and technology sector with the inclusive development needs of the nation; greater national and international research collaborations; and creation of a new innovation ecosystem as some of the broad objectives to achieve to change the face of Indian science.

Admitting of insufficient funding in research and development (R&D) in India, Singh stressed upon the need for more sincere public private partnership (PPP) to meet those objectives in science and technology sector.

Inaugurating the 99th edition of Indian Science Congress at the KIIT University campus in Bhubaneswar, Singh said over the past few decades India's relative position in the world of science had been declining and countries like China overtook it.

"Things are changing but we cannot be satisfied with what has been achieved. We need to do much more to change the face of Indian science."

More than 15,000 delegates from across India, including Nobel laureates and other scientists from abroad are participating in the five-day brainstorming science event organised jointly by KIIT University and National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER). About one lakh students are expected to attend the event which will conclude on January 7.

Speaking to an audience of about 15,000 people, the Prime Minister said research should be directed towards providing 'frugal' solutions to the country's problems of providing food, energy and water security.

"Increasing food production and nutritional security is critically important and our agricultural scientists should work towards scientific breakthroughs that can enable a second green revolution," he said.

He said science should help the country understand how to give practical meaning to the concept of sustainable development and green growth.

"Science should help us shift our mindsets from the allocation of resources to their efficient use. Technology and process engineering should help us reach the benefits of development to those who most need it," he said.

The Prime Minister lamented that though science and engineering continued to attract the best students, many of them later opt for other careers because of poor prospects in science. Stressing upon strengthening of supply chain of the science sector, Singh said scientific output might be made more relevant to the country's stage development to address to the challenging problems of the poor rather than just of the rich.

Singh admitted that as far as resources were concerned, the fraction of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on R&D had been too low and stagnant. "We must aim to increase the total R&D spending as a percentage of GDP to 2% by the end of 12th Plan period from the current level of about 0.9%. That can be achieved, if the industry, which contributes only 25% of the total R&D expenditure today, increases its contribution," Singh said.

Singh said at present publicly funded R&D is skewed in favour of fundamental rather than applied research. He said it was easier to attract industrial funds into applied research areas and a set of principles should be formulated to push such funding and to drive PPPs in R&D.

Singh said: "It is in some ways ironic that (multi-nationals like) GE and Motorola have created world class technology hubs in India, while our own industry has not done so, except perhaps in the pharma sector. We need to look at ways of incentivising private R&D investment under Indian conditions."

The Prime Minister said that while research generated new knowledge, there was a need for innovation to use the knowledge productively for social benefit.

"Our government has declared 2010-20 as the Decade of Innovations. We need to give practical meaning to innovation so that it does not end up being just a buzz word," he said.

Singh added that the National Innovation Council was proposing to set up an India Inclusive Innovation Fund that would drive and catalyse enterprise, entrepreneurship and venture capital, while targeting solutions for the bottom of the pyramid.

"In this context, it is important that we explore and rejuvenate traditional knowledge systems found all over the country in areas such as agriculture, architecture, handicrafts and textiles," he said.