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India Unveils Ambitious Science Policy

3 January 2013 5:30 pm
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KOLKATA, INDIA—The Indian government today adopted a new science, technology, and innovation policy that calls for doubling the investment in science in the next 5 years and establishing India among the top five nations in output of scientific publications by the end of the decade. The initiative differs from a similar announcement a decade ago in that it emphasizes innovation but does not specify bold new actions.

"[S]cience-led innovation is the key to development," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking in at the centenary session of the annual Indian Science Congress.

India "aims to produce and nurture talent in science, to stimulate research in our universities, to develop young leaders in the field of science, to reward performance," Singh added.

Today, India invests about $12 billion annually on science and technology—about one-third of it from industry—for a total of about 1% of the GDP. The goal is to raise that figure to 2% of the GDP by 2017. Building support for a "science-based value-system" is critical, Singh said: "Complex issues, be they genetically modified food, or nuclear energy, or exploration of outer space, cannot be settled by faith, emotion, and fear but by structured debate, analysis, and enlightenment." The prime minister stressed the need for excellence and flexibility, saying, "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 many Indian scientists abroad."

This statement is a step in the right direction, said Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, former director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Delhi. "Historically, India has not done well in science-led innovation," according to Mashelkar, who noted that India's first and only science Nobel laureate, C. V. Raman, discovered the Raman effect but that commercialization—development of Raman spectrometers—took place in the West. Mashelkar said: "India can't remain a nation of imitators."

C. N. R. Rao, science adviser to the prime minister and a chemist at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, faults Indian scientists for the poor state of science in India, saying that many "are not excited, motivated, or dedicated enough." Rao suggested that rather than have another "piece of paper" calling for innovation, the nation needs an action plan.

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