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Bose jinx test for private sector
- Govt cash alone not enough

Calcutta, Jan. 3: A new science and technology policy unveiled by the Union government today seeks to dramatically increase India’s expenditure on research and development, but senior scientists caution this goal hinges on a task that has been articulated for years but remains unachieved.

The Science Technology and Innovation Policy 2013, released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the 100th session of the Indian Science Congress here, is aimed at raising the research expenditure from the current 1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) — a measure of a nation’s economic activity — to 2 per cent within 10 years.

The policy also seeks to increase the number of full-time researchers from the current 150,000 to about 250,000 within five years and encourage local innovation to support “national development and sustainable and more inclusive growth”.

This is India’s fourth articulation of priorities in science and technology, after three earlier documents — each with distinct sets of goals — released in 1958, 1983 and 2003.

The target of 2 per cent of the GDP set by the 2013 policy can be achieved only if the private sector matches public investment and the ratio of the public to private sector funds in research changes from the current 3:1 to 1:1 within five years.

“For this to happen, we will need a big change in mindset and completely new, innovative models to encourage private research investments,” said Raghunath Mashelkar, a member of the National Innovation Council.

Mashelkar, also the former director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and other science policymakers point out that India’s private sector has traditionally resisted investing in research, viewing it as a risky activity, opting instead for proven imported technologies.

“We need (private) organisations with an appetite for risk-taking,” said Shri Krishna Joshi, a senior physicist and former director of the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi. “Until that happens, I think growth in private research will remain low.”

Science and technology agencies already have schemes to attract private investments in research. But scientists say they have had a limited impact on the commercialisation and spread of home-grown technologies.

Mashelkar said the lack of local support for innovative ideas from Indian scientists dated back to the early 20th century. “(Jagadish Chandra) Bose developed the idea of wireless, but the discovery of radio was by Marconi, C.V. Raman discovered the Raman effect, but Raman scanners were developed abroad,” Mashelkar said today during a panel discussion at the congress.

But K. Kasturirangan, former chairman of space agency Isro and a member of the Planning Commission, believes the new policy will be backed by “completely new models of investment” to encourage the flow of private funds into research.

The first science policy of 1958 had resolved to promote science, while the second, in 1983, had stressed self-reliance in technology. The policy in 2003 emphasised the need for increasing investments in research and development.