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Rao’s Bharat Ratna: INDIA’S POTENTIAL GREATER, By Dr S Saraswathi, 25 Nov, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 25 November 2013

Rao’s Bharat Ratna


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


It may have come as an unpleasant surprise to the Government to hear the first reaction of the latest nominee for the Bharat Ratna, Scientist C N R Rao, to the award. He was not overwhelmed by the announcement or immensely flattered by this late recognition. However, his immediate reaction was a well thought out and profound statement on the prospects of scientific research in India. Hence, his focus was on supporting scientific research and not on expression of joy over the award.


He stated that funding for science was “marginal” at an average of just 20% of the amount required for any project. That too, was not coming on time.  Rao noted that this made it difficult for research institutions to invest fully in any project. He also pointed out that China and South Korea were competing with each other to go ahead of the US by investing heavily in science, technology, and innovation.


India is recognized as scientifically proficient country (SPC), but it does not figure among top 10 in global ranking for science performance in innovations and publications.  Its rank in innovations is too low to be mentioned openly – 66th place among 144 countries. This is certainly a cause for worry. It is a reminder that drastic corrections are required in our educational system and research programmes.


Budget allocations for Science Ministries and Departments generally fall short of requirements. The Prime Minister himself had raised this in his address at the Indian Science Congress held early last year. He had lamented that the expenditure on Research & Development was “too low and stagnant” at about 1% of the GDP. A target of increasing it to at least 2% was set to be achieved before the end of the 12th Plan.


In the Centenary Session of the Indian Science Congress celebrated this January, the problem of low investments came up in a big way. It was repeatedly mentioned that the absolute quantum of investments since 2000 had increased but the target of reaching 2% of the GDP still remained a target.


Within science & technology, there is a general grievance that certain fields like atomic energy, space and earth sciences, polar and ocean related research  are given substantial hike in budgetary allocations, but basic scientific and industrial research and bio-technology receive little hike.


The importance of promoting science and technology for the growth and development of the country was recognized and publicly declared by the Government of India soon after independence. The Scientific Policy Resolution was adopted by Parliament in 1958. A chain of national laboratories to promote fundamental and applied research and special centres for atomic energy and space research were also established. Centres of excellence for education and research in science, engineering, and other professional fields came up.  


The Kothari Commission (1964-66) recommended that Indian education should be “science based” and should also be “in coherence with Indian values and culture”. 


The Department of Science and Technology was established in 1971 by the Union Government to promote new areas in this field and to play a nodal role for organizing and promoting activities in these areas. The number of scientific bodies, science centres, and research institutions/laboratories has increased. However, facilities for research have not grown correspondingly and most institutions remain teaching departments. Their budget is small, and qualified guides are not many. Research is a costly activity beyond the financial capacity of individual scholars.


Conditions have continued like this until the country was forced to wake up to the call of the knowledge society progressing day-by-day under the information and communication technology. The 11th Plan (2007-12) put the emphasis on evolving an integrated S&T plan, enlarging scientific manpower and strengthening infrastructure, and creating an empowered National Science and Technology Commission.


Global competition became a crucial factor in the past two decades.  The Central Government announced a new Science and Technology Policy in 2003 reorienting S&T governance so as to expand scientific network and earn a place in the world of science.


A decade later, in 2013 Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy was adopted by the Government. It reminds the scientific community that the trio - science, technology, and innovation (STI) - should focus on faster, sustainable, and inclusive development of the people. The policy aims at positioning India among top five global scientific powers by 2020. One of the key features of this policy is to set up a world class infrastructure for research and development.


To improve our rank in global science performance, scientists need to bring out more publications and research papers. Undeniably, over the years there has been a decline in the quality and quantum of science research in the country. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of research papers came down from about 16,000 to 12,000 – a fall that prompted then Union Minister for Science and Technology to hold an urgent meeting with scientists and academicians for detailed discussions. At that time also, the scientific performance of China and South Korea was improving fast.


Presently, India contributes about 3.5 % of science publications and it is said that this has to grow to at least 7% to move upward in global ranking. Assessments in terms of such achievements and consequent global ranking system do not take into account relative resource position and working conditions.


Universities and other institutions of higher learning in India are often denigrated for low research output. Comparisons with universities in western countries to show us in poor light seem awfully unfair to scholars. The teaching load and examination-related work in our institutions gives little time for teachers to engage in research, which in fact is a full time occupation.


It is because of this that there has developed a clear demarcation between teaching and research in India. Universities have become teaching shops leaving research to a few science institutes in the country. The distinction is reinforced by separate policies and programmes for the two. Research in India is resource-starved and researchers, like old time poets and writers, live a frugal life.


While science and technology are mentioned generally together, between them, the status of pure science is a cause for real worry. For over a decade, the declining trend in enrolment in pure science courses in higher education is noticeable. The fact that basic sciences form the roots of technological innovations is totally ignored. Choice of courses by students is governed by job openings and salary levels which are governed by commercial market needs. Advanced countries have more than 60% of doctorates in science and engineering, India has less than 50%.


To establish India as a knowledge super power, the nation needs to build science and technology base by promoting research. Global ranking is only a stimulus and not the ultimate goal of progress. 


India’s potential for scientific achievements is far greater than its actual performance.   For sustained and all inclusive progress, we have to address all impediments in the way.  These are not only confined to the availability of funds, but include their proper utilization, creation of infrastructure for basic research, removal of administrative hurdles if any, and above all the freedom to pursue research. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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