Some labs of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) -India’s premier laboratory research network, have earned no money from technology transfer since at least 2015, according to data by the Council accessed by The Hindu via the Right to Information Act.
Of the 38 labs of the CSIR, 11 responded with information to The Hindu ’s queries, posed in February, on the number of technologies developed, numbers licensed and the money earned from technology transfer since 2015. Some said they were unable to respond because of coronavirus ( COVID-19 ) restrictions.
Five of the labs that responded said they had received “no royalty from technologies commercialised 2015-2020”. These were the CSIR-IMTECH (Institute of Microbial Technology), Chandigarh; CSIR-AMPRI (Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute), Bhopal; CSIR-IIP (Indian Institute of Petroleum), Dehradun; CSIR-Fourth Paradigm, Bengaluru; CSIR-CBRI (Central Building Research Institute), Roorkee.
Other labs reported significant revenue. The CSIR-IICT (Indian Institute of Chemical Technology), Hyderabad, reported earnings of ₹2 crore last year and three out of four years before that, at least ₹1 crore from licensing technologies. The CSIR-CEERI, Pilani (Central Electronics and Engineering Research Institute) reported earning ₹25 lakh last year and ₹15 lakh the year before, and the CSIR-CFTRI (Central Food Technological Research Institute) ₹ 60 lakh and ₹75 lakh in preceding years.
While a request for information went out to all labs, some said they were unable to respond because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The CSIR’s revenue isn’t from technology transfer alone but also from providing consultancy services and the RTI response didn’t include such revenues. In 2018, the CSIR earned ₹1,908 crore in the past four years, according to the response to a question in the Rajya Sabha.
12% of budgetary outlay
This roughly worked out to about 12% of the 38-lab-strong organisation’s budgetary outlay of about ₹16,000 crore over the same period. The Hindu ’s information shows that the bulk of the revenue came from few labs but the exact number was unclear.
Not all research labs of the CSIR are geared towards technology development and several have a mandate of developing technologies for poorer sections of society, according to a CSIR official. “All labs of the CSIR have a different character. A CSIR-NEIST (North Eastern Institute of Science and Technology), Jorhat; or IHBT, Palampur (CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource and Technology) must work on sustainable technologies that benefit the local region. On the other hand, some labs work on very fundamental long-term biotechnology that takes years to develop but eventually can become major sources of income,” he told The Hindu .
Questions about the revenue earned by the CSIR labs were raised at the highest levels of government. In 2015, after a conference with the heads of CSIR labs, Science Minister Harsh Vardhan announced a ‘Dehradun declaration’ that exhorted the CSIR to generate at least 50% of its budget through external sources and become ‘self-financing’ in two years.
Those targets prompted questions within CSIR scientists about the viability of long-term research and having to opt for short-term revenue generation projects.
“Even today, the CSIR gets royalty on the indelible ink it had developed [which is used in elections and in use since the first general election]. All labs have been asked to work at their best and excel. And that will help us not only meet the Dehradun targets but exceed them. The proportion of revenues have from industrial projects have been steadily increasing,” Shekhar Mande, Director General of CSIR, said.