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India’s new science policy 'a joke'

Unveiled by the PM on Friday, the policy for the next decade sets almost identical goals as the policy for the previous decade, silent on why those couldn’t be realized, Charu Sudan Kasturi reports.
Hindustan Times | By Charu Sudan Kasturi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 05, 2013 02:21 AM IST

In 2003, emerging India set itself a goal: to increase its research and development investment from under 1% of its GDP to 2% by 2007. Ten years later in 2013, India’s targets are the same. So is the language of its national science policy.

The country’s new science, technology and innovation policy unveiled on Thursday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Kolkata to claps and flashbulbs is largely a mix and match of India’s 2003 policy and a June 2012 government report, a close look at these documents shows.

“It’s a joke that’s being played on the nation,” a senior scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) said, requesting anonymity because he works with the government. “This joke will unfortunately rebound on the country.”

Ten years after the 2003 policy, India’s research and development investment remains under 1% of its GDP, and in absolute terms just a fifth of China’s and one-twentieth of the US’s funding for science and technology. India’s investment in R&D in 2010 was 24.8 billion USD, well below the US (398 billion), Japan (148 billion), China (102 billion), Germany (72 billion), Mexico (56 billion), France (43 billion), and South Korea and the UK (both 41 billion), according to a report commissioned by the department of science and technology. Russia, Canada and Brazil are snapping at India’s heels, threatening to overtake the country’s R&D investment.

But while the new science policy recognizes that increasing the gross expenditure in research and development of 2% of the GDP has “been a national goal for some time,” it suggests a blueprint similar to the failed charter of 2003.

Like the 2003 policy, the 2013 one argues that India can only achieve a target of 2% GDP spending on research if the private sector expands its investment and points to a need to create an environment conducive to private R&D investments.

But it is silent on why India has failed – since the 2003 policy – to attract enough private sector investment to allow the country’s GDP to touch 2%.

It’s a problem that has long plagued India.

“(Jagadish Chandra) Bose developed the idea of wireless (communications), but the discovery of radio was by Marconi, C.V. Raman discovered the Raman Effect, but Raman scanners were developed abroad,” former CSIR chief RA Mashelkar said on Thursday during his address at the Indian Science Congress where the new science policy was released.

But private sector investment isn’t the only challenge facing Indian science. India ranks only ninth in the sheer volume of publications in reputed peer-reviewed scientific journals, measured under a global parameter known as the SCI index – behind the US, China, Germany, Japan, the UK, France, Italy and Canada.

A key element of the problem, scientists argue, is the human resources needed to boost the country’s science and technology research.

India’s 154,827 fully trained R&D professionals are almost a tenth of the number that the US and China (1.42 million) boast of, and are fewer than countries like Russia (451,213) and Korea (221,928), apart from the developed west and Japan.

The new policy targets an increase in India’s trained R&D personnel by 66% by 2018. But even that would only bring India only at par with Korea’s current strength.

And like the 2003 policy, the 2013 document is silent on specific changes in direction needed to achieve the goals it sets out.

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