Govt. tells labs: fund research by yourself

The decision was part of a two-day ‘Chintan Shivir’ held at Dehradun in June and ended with all CSIR labs resolving to turn research projects into ‘for-profit’ ventures over the next two years.” File Photo  

Cash-strapped, the Ministry of Science and Technology has mandated organisations involved in scientific research to start ‘self-financing’ projects; send in monthly updates and ensure that research stays in sync with the Central government’s ‘social and economic objectives.’’

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has been directed to generate half of its funds and start sending report cards to the Centre on how “each of the laboratory [is] focusing its resources on developing specific lines of inventions which would contribute to the social and economic objectives of the Narendra Modi government for the poor and the common man.”

The decision was part of a two-day ‘Chintan Shivir’ held at Dehradun in June and ended with all CSIR labs resolving to turn research projects into ‘for-profit’ ventures over the next two years.”

As part of the ‘Dehradun Declaration,’ all laboratories signed up to “develop a revenue model in a business-like manner with a clear cost-benefit analysis.

‘Indigenous science’

“The most worrisome aspect was representatives from Vigyan Bharati, an organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) being part of this discussion. The idea was to ensure ‘indigenous science’ was also promoted. But what was the RSS doing in this meeting,” said a senior official who was a part of the meet.

For now, funding for the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) & Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) — both under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) — have not been affected, said a senior scientist at CSIR, raising concerns over industry’s involvement in research and the resultant clash of interest.

“While DAE institutions are spared for the moment, institutes under the CSIR are badly hit by the government’s budget slash. Under the Dehradun Declaration, research institutions have been asked to raise part of their money for research through external funded projects and grants. While senior and established researchers can manage to secure grants, young researchers are having a tough time. This will affect the quality of research,” he added.

Further, according to a doctoral student at one of the CSIR labs, scientists are now required to show how their research contributes to “society outreach.” In addition to funding for research, the number of fellowships too is being cut down. They are required to submit reports every month on the progress of their work and state what part of their work gives back to society.

“This year’s notification for Senior Research Fellowships granted by CSIR has not been issued so far. Last year fewer people have been granted SRFs,” said a doctoral student from the same institution. The number of Junior Research Fellows taken under various projects too has come down, he added.

The measures fundamentally contradict Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship initiatives like the ‘Make In India’ campaign. Science & technology is not the only Ministry to see budget cuts. In March this year, HIV/AIDS-related research in India became a casualty of similar budget cuts with the Health Ministry pulling the plug on 18 donor-funded projects and 14 operational research projects financed by the National AIDS Control Organisation.

Minister for Science & Technology Harsh Vardhan said that research in India needed to be commercialised, underplaying the concerns expressed by academicians. “The technology transfer is not happening and there is no harm in relying on industry to scale up or take forward the research projects under way. If the labs make more money, the research will be better utilised. We are not giving targets to research institutions. We just want them to be better coordinated and have more accountability,” he said.

Moving forward, research institutions will have to submit their short-term and long-term projects (between 1 and 3 years) to the government. “The Dehradun Declaration is a vision document with a clear focus on deliverables having relevance to the common man on fast track. The majority of CSIR labs have all the competence and expertise to generate external cash flows. Today, IICT already attracts around Rs. 30 crore from various non-CSIR sources, including foreign companies, industries and other government agencies. All good fundamental science research leads to applied research and CSIR is a unique agency which has competence to perform translational research in our country. Innovative solutions to industrial problems are nothing but great science. The scientist is happy only when his fundamental research is used by industry for a product formation,” said Dr. Srivari Chandrasekhar, Director of the Hyderabad-based CSIR-Institute of Chemical Technology.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 11:35:10 PM |

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