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Monday, November 12, 2007

S&T and R&D to be liberalised ?

Planning Commission has admitted that India's investment in R&D remains far below the level required for a country aspiring to emerge as an economic and knowledge superpower.

The draft of 11th Plan,likely to be put for National Development Council's approval early next month, also stresses upon the promotion of basic research in science, engineering and medicine as a "critical input" for development.

"To promote basic science research in academic and research institutions, there is need of a well-defined focussed approach for building an infrastructure of equipment, facilities in colleges/universities/institutions," says the draft in its chapter 'Innovation and Technology'.

Mere investments, the plan panel asserts, would help only partially and there is also a need to increase the efficiency of the delivery system so that resources are made available to R&D groups much faster.

It has also called for a "mechanism" which would formulate and implement programmes and play a role in upgrading research infrastructure, besides attracting a new generation of students and faculty into the research system.

"Most of the institutions have aged collectively with a consequent decline of their research profile. Vigorous and attractive recruitment policies need to be introduced in the Indian science and technology (S&T) system," says the paper.

Post-liberalisation, the remuneration mismatch between state-supported R&D bodies and similar private or foreign institutions has made basic or applied research highly unattractive. For instance, as TOI reported on September 6, only one government agency, Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation), lost 392 scientists in last 36 months — an attrition rate of 11 per month.

The Plan document recognises the problem and calls for "flexibility in the salary support and start-up grant" as a means to attract good talent to basic research. The Sixth Pay Commission, expected to submit its report early next year, has also received petitions from various scientific bodies and ministries, calling for a substantial increase in the remuneration packages.

The panel has favoured a liberal opening up of the S&T and R&D systems that have mostly worked behind a wall of opaqueness since independence. "There is a need for improving inter-institutional linkages to quickly enhance scientific activities within the university system. Focus is also required on initiating programmes to promote establishment of technology-business incubators in universities, which support scientists to start commercial activities based on indigenous technologies developed at their institutions," says the paper.

According to the panel, such technology transfer can help in the implementation of ventures, especially those with low capital start-up. In support of the new partnerships, it has stressed the need for industries with active R&D divisions to recruit research students working in basic science areas related to new technology demands.