India needs new policies to nurture science, research and technology

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled a new science policy, at the centenary session of the Indian Science Congress. India's economic progress will be determined to alarge extent by the capabilities of our scientific institutions and our efforts to innovate as a society to meet some of the major challenges that we are likely to face in the future.

Indeed, if we look at economic progress in countries such as Japan and the Republic of Korea, we find that rapid industrialisation and growth in exports have been driven by scientific innovation and a powerful coalition between government, industry and research and academia. Soon after Independence India's leadership realised the value of developing our science and technology (S&T) infrastructure, and it was with this in view that the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research was set up largely as an autonomous organisation but chaired by the prime minister.

Subsequently, organisations such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Indian Council of Medical Research were established to build up a solid programme of R&D activities in specific sectors. However, over time many of our institutions lapsed into bureaucratic structures and, most importantly, S&T in the university system has actually regressed over time. If India wants to attain its rightful place as a major global force that does not necessarily derive its strength from military power but rather the exercise of soft power and excellence in knowledge, then a repair of our S&T infrastructure and building R&D capabilities in our institutions of higher learning acquire great urgency.

And, this can only be achieved if a crucial linkage between knowledge-based institutions and industry is established for the benefit of both parties. The prime minister is obviously aware of the value of upgrading India's scientific establishment and the critical importance of research becoming an important part of higher education. At the Science Congress, he said, "The quality of our scientific institutions will depend upon the quality of the students we can attract into science, the freedom we give them in pursuing scientific research and the human resource policies we follow in selecting leaders.

We must select only the best and we must expand our search to the Indian scientists abroad." TERI has carried out a detailed assessment of the state of S&T in India and has come up with analysis that can be used to initiate a dialogue within the country among major stakeholders for reshaping policies and R&D programmes in our universities as well as industrial enterprises in a manner that establishes synergies for the benefit of all stakeholders.

While the prime minister has set a goal to raise the expenditure on S&T to about 2% of GDP by 2017, outputs will have to be produced that are adequate either in commercial value or social benefits. In his address to the Science Congress, the prime minister emphasised the need for new breakthroughs in water-saving technologies for agricultural activities, the enhancement of land productivity and development of climate-resilient varieties.

Tags: science and technology, India's economic progress, nurture science, research and technology