There is a popular Hindi saying, ‘the sweetness of tea is directly proportional to amount of sweetener added’. The governmental funding to basic and advanced research in the fields of science and technology in the country has been too meagre to realise the dream of ‘India becoming a superpower in scientific research’ (Padma, 2015). The data collected by National Science and Technology Management Information System (NSTMIS) has revealed that though the gross spending on research has been ascending, nearly tripling in a decade (2004-05 to 2014-15), yet we are far behind some of the emerging economies such as Brazil, China and more. When viewed in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), our total expenditure on research and development has remained static, hovering below the mark of 1 per cent of the country’s total GDP as compared to developed nations that spend 2 per cent or more of their GDP in R&D (Vishwa Mohan, 2018). We are at the bottom of the list even among the BRICS nations (Brazil 1.24 per cent, Russia 1.19 per cent, India 0.69 per cent, China 2.05 per cent and South Africa 0.73 per cent) in this respect.
A comparative study
Our spending for research has not kept pace with the country’s increasing GDP over the last couple of decades. In fact, the R&D expenditure as percentage of national GDP has declined during the period. Even after the rise in budgetary allocation for 2018-19, our spending on research will still be only around 0.8 per cent of GDP. The silver lining however, is that the share of the governmental support that comes through major science and technology related ministries, was 81 per cent, which is among the highest in the world.
China, as a country, offers a unique example of how sustained support to basic education and research can bring a sea change in overall growth of wealth of a nation. China has been consistently investing heavily in R&D since the past two decades, becoming the second largest spender in this area and ‘accounting for 20 per cent of total world R&D expenditure, with the rate of R&D investment growth greatly exceeding that of the United States and the European Union’ (ReinhildeVeugelers, 2017). China’s National Medium and Long Term Programme for science and technology aims to make it a global leader in science and innovation by 2050. It is already very close to achieving its target of increasing its R&D expenditure to 2.5 per cent of the GDP. In spite of the language barrier, China has been sending its students to top most ranking universities and institutions world over in order to gain the latest state-of-the art knowledge. The expertise thus gained has helped China to build its own strengths in this domain. Domestically, it produces nearly 25 per cent of the world’s scholars with science and engineering degrees and has been awarding more PhD degrees in natural sciences and engineering than any other country (ReinhildeVeugelers, op cit).
Recent budgetary view
Regarding budgetary support to science and technology in India, a press release of the Press Information Bureau highlights the consciously increased state funding. It says “Budget allocation for Ministry of Science and Technology (DST) during last five years was INR 19,764 crore, which is a whopping 90 per cent increase over the preceding five years (2009-10 to 2013-14). Similarly, there was an increase of 65 per cent for Department of Biotechnology (DBT); almost 43 per cent increase for Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); and 26 per cent increase for Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) during the last five years. The upward trend continued for budget allocation for 2018-19.”
The proposed hike of budgetary grant for science and technology ministries from INR 61,192 crore in 2017-18 to INR 65,741 crore for 2018-19 amounts to nearly 7.5 per cent rise. The rise of INR 4,549 crore has been appreciated in general, though it does not meet the aspirations of scientists who had demanded substantial financial support during the “March for Science” on August 9, 2017 in major Indian cities such as Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad etc. The increase in the budgetary allocation in 2018-19 to science ministries is apparently in the domain that has direct relevance to societal benefits. The increased allocation is especially for seven central government ministries that are concerned with research in applied scientific fields—the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) which includes DST, CSIR and DBT; the MoES; the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE); and the departments of atomic energy, space, health research, and agricultural research and education.
The Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space stand out as maximum beneficiaries, with total outlay at INR 13,971.41 crore and INR 10,783 crore respectively. ISRO with an unmatched success story of Chandrayan and the Mars Mission has established itself as the country’s pride. The 17.78 per cent increase in its outlay will strengthen its space related research. The outlay of Department of Agriculture Research and Education (DARE) too has increased by 11.6 per cent as compared to 2017-18. Ministry of Defence with an outlay of INR 2, 95,511 crore (as compared to 2,74,114crore last year)—marked an increase of 7.81 per cent from last year’s allocation. Part of this fund goes to R&D in the laboratories of DRDO that are working on innovations and new technological advancements.
Monsoon research, weather prediction and basic research in the field of climate change that is crucial to the agriculture sector, is mandated to MoES. The Ministry has been allocated INR 1,800 crore in its outlay for fiscal year 2018-19, an increase of more than 12.5 per cent . This is a reflection of the importance that government has given to basic research in these fields. The success of the ‘National Monsoon Mission’ (NMM), a mission mode project with a vision to develop a state-of-the-art dynamical prediction system for monsoon rainfall on all different time scales, initiated in 2012, has been recognised. MoES plans to take up second phase of the monsoon mission with an emphasis on predicting extremes and development of applications based on monsoon forecasts. The Ministry plans to issue block level weather forecasts to benefit lakhs of new farmers. It also has plans to procure an ice class research vessel for its polar and southern ocean research, as also to build a replacement of the aging research base at Maitri in Antarctica.
The funding for the education sector has been increased from INR 8.18 lakh crore last year to INR 8.5 lakh crore this year, which undoubtedly is a 4 per cent rise in absolute terms. But going by the percentage share in the budget it has actually fallen from 3.69 to 3.48 per cent in the total budget.
The part of the increase in the outlay will be consumed by inflation, increased salary component of manpower and maintenance of infrastructure. The need of the hour is to encourage private sector to come forward and be a part in R&D funding as is being done in most of the countries. After all, it is the industry that stands to benefit by enjoying the fruits of innovation and new findings. The purchasing power parity (PPP) and R&D initiative for Prime Minister’s Fellowship programme for doctoral research where Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) has come forward is a positive development.
The MoST, a major funding institution for a wide spectrum of science and technology related activities, has been awarded an increase of 8.21 per cent. Comparing to last year’s allocation that stood at INR 11,612.11 crore, it has received INR 12,322.28 crore for 2018-19. All the three major departments under this ministry DST, CSIR and DBT have shared the rise.
It is encouraging to see government’s plans to attract and encourage about three thousand meritorious students from elite institutions for doctoral and post doctoral research by offering them high value scholarships and research grants under the Prime Minister’s Research Fellow Scheme (PMRF) announced recently. The fellowship promises INR 70-80,000 per month and an annual grant of INR 2 lakh. This will certainly be a proactive step to stop the brain drain.
There is a growing need to further support extramural research projects under various provisions in the ministries such as Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) of DST or Public Accounts Committee (PACs) of MoES and DBT so that non-governmental institutions and universities can participate in research programmes. There are several such schemes run by the ministries but the process from submission of project proposals to receiving the financial grant is tedious and long. Many a times, the paperwork is so time consuming that serious researchers get disheartened, frustrated and even abandon the efforts of seeking grants.
Budget Papers. 2018-19. Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India.
Economic Survey 2017-2018. Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India.
Padma, T.V. 2015. India: The fight to become a science superpower. Nature, 521, 144-147 doi: 10.1038/521144a .
ReeieinhildeVeugelers. 2017. China is the world’s new science and technology powerhouse.(First published in Brink Asia), Aug 30, 2017
Vishwa Mohan. 2018. At less than 1% of GDP, India’s spend on R&D continues to be less than other emerging economies. TNN | Jan 17.