India can be among top five with strong science leadership, less red tape: report

K. S. Jayaraman

doi:10.1038/nindia.2013.98 Published online 23 July 2013

An upbeat report by the science advisory council (SAC) to India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the country could well be among the top five scientifically rich nations in the next 10-15 years but warns that the present situation is "not altogether encouraging" as there are many areas of science where India has fallen behind even small countries.

The report, presented to Singh earlier this month (July 8, 2013), notes that the decade between 2004 and 2013 has seen a great increase in funding support for scientists along with an increase in India's scientific output. In the same breath, the report calls for greater emphasis on innovation and urges that the "Research and Innovation Bill 2012" currently before the Parliament must be passed as soon as possible.

Calling the present situation "not altogether encouraging", the report points at the scientific "leadership crisis" in India and hints at the growing competition from the scientific prowess of China. "We do not have educational institutions in the top 100 in the world. Our universities have decayed due to years of neglect and even our leading institutions are not performing as well as one would expect," the report says. "In most cases of S&T there are only a few real experts and there is a leadership crisis at a time when there is increasing competition from some Asian neighbours."

India's main concern should be to improve quality of science by eliminating mediocrity from its educational and scientific institutions, according to the SAC's report. "We have to create the right climate for innovation and creativity to blossom and bureaucracy in science administration has to be eliminated," it adds.

"There is every reason to believe India will emerge as a global leader in science and technology and be amongst the top five countries in the world in next 10 to 15 years," the report titled "Science in India: Decade of Achievements and Rising Aspirations" says.

The report documents India's scientific progress under the United Progressive Alliance rule since 2004. It also provides the approach to action plan for India to achieve its objectives "in the best possible manner and in the quickest possible time."

Singh who received the report on 8 July from SAC chairman C. N. R. Rao said "the nation has benefited immensely by the SAC recommendations ranging from creation of new structures to serve specialised disciplines of science, new educational institutions, and new policies to make science an attractive career."

According to the report, the 2004-2013 period witnessed the creation of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Department of Health Education and Research, five new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, eight new Indian Institutes of Technology and the National Science and Engineering Research Foundation — an autonomous body for funding science and engineering research.

India's emergence as a global leader in S&T would require unstinted support for basic research and judicious choice of main R&D areas and massive effort to solve pressing national problems, the report says. It has urged the government to launch and create a robust innovation ecosystem that can support incubators across every Indian university where new ideas are tested; venture capital for really high risk cutting edge science-based innovations and rewards and recognition for innovations that impact the society.

The SAC's agenda for the future includes increase of scientific manpower by about 60% by 2017, identification of a few India-centric "grand challenge" programmes in S&T and innovation with potential for global impact. The report calls for establishment of 200 research groups centred around individuals with proven record. It also recommends an overseas doctoral and post doctoral fellowship scheme for training 1000 young scientists in priority areas. In the energy sector, the report says, India should invest in technologies based on hydrogen and pursue the solar option with "utmost vigour".

Recommendations of SAC had earlier led to promotion of solar energy and launching of several technology missions relating to water, infectious diseases, education and energy. Based on SAC's advice the government has made a "vigorous effort to attract Indian diaspora," the report points out.

Experts feel that the country's total research and development (R&D) funding might get a boost if SAC's recommendations are implemented. Notable among the SAC's recommendations is one calling the government to mandate all public sector and private companies to spend a specified share of their profit For funding research in universities and elite institutions with matching government funds. This is in keeping with Prime Minister Singh's recent statement that private sector participation is a must to double the overall national investments into R&D from the current level of 1% of GDP to 2%.