Research should find ‘frugal' solutions to food, energy and water security problems

Expressing concern that the expenditure on research and development in India has been “too low and stagnant,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday called upon industry to increase its contribution and stressed the need for enhanced public-private partnership (PPP) in science and technology.

“It is in some way ironic that GE [General Electric] and Motorola have created world-class technology hubs in India, while our own industry has not done so, except perhaps in the pharmaceutical sector. We need to look at ways and means of incentivising private R&D investment.”

As publicly funded R&D was now “skewed” in favour of fundamental research, it would be easier to attract industrial funds to applied research. “A set of principles should be formulated to push such funding and to drive PPPs in R&D,” Dr. Singh said inaugurating the 99th annual session of the Indian Science Congress here.

“We must aim to increase the total R&D spending as a percentage of GDP to 2 per cent by the end of XII Plan [period] from the current level of 0.9 per cent. This can be achieved only if industry, which contributes about one-third of the total R&D expenditure today, increases its contribution significantly. I believe that public sector undertakings, especially in the energy sector, should play a major role in this expansion.''

Over the past few decades, India's relative position in the world of science had been “declining” and it had been overtaken by countries like China. “Things are changing [for the better], but we cannot be satisfied with what has been achieved.”

“Preoccupied with rich”

The Prime Minister urged that scientific output be made more relevant to the needs of the country and that traditional systems of knowledge be explored and rejuvenated. “It is said that science is often pre-occupied with problems of the rich, ignoring the enormous and in many ways more challenging problems of the poor,” he said.

“Research should be directed towards providing `frugal' solutions to our problems of providing food, energy and water security. Science should help us 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.”

Referring to a recent study which undertook a survey of about 2,000 women scientists with a PhD degree and showed that 60 per cent of them were unemployed, mainly for lack of job opportunities, he called for transparency in selection procedures in scientific institutions, with proper gender audits.

The government, he said, was examining a proposal to build national capacity and capability in supercomputing by the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science at a cost of Rs. 5,000 crore and considering establishing a neutrino observatory in Tamil Nadu's Theni district on an investment of Rs. 1,350 crore.

For women scientists

In addition, the Department of Science and Technology was formulating a scheme, “Disha,” which would help women scientists relocate themselves to other cities. The department would create 1,000 contractual positions tenable in publicly funded institutions. A fellowship matching the total emoluments of an in-service S&T professional would be provided to a woman scientist when she moved from one place to another.

Union Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said the government would soon come out with a new policy for S&T and innovation. It would cover both a policy for science and a science policy for the people, and address the problem of the R&D sector functioning in separate compartments.

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