[20 April 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Scientists and a wish list for the incoming government 

PYQ Relevance:
Q  Scientific research in Indian universities is declining, because a career in science is not as attractive as are business professions, engineering or administration, and the universities are becoming consumer-oriented. Critically comment.(UPSC IAS/2014)

Q What are the research and developmental achievements in applied biotechnology? How will these achievements help to uplift the poorer sections of the society?(UPSC IAS/2021)

Mentor comments:With 970 million Indians in the process of exercising their franchise in the ongoing general election, what do scientists look for in the polls? Who do they want to vote for, and what are the fundamental issues they want to see their elected representatives resolve and implement? There are five fundamental issues that scientists want the new government to solve and their elected representatives to pay urgent attention to.

Why in the news? 

Supporting science and scientists is essential in India’s quest to become a major economic powerhouse

Need to Increase spending

  • Increase Government Spending: Government should increase spending on research and development by at least 50% year-over-year for the next five years, aiming for nearly 4% of GDP by the end of the term.
  • Anusandhan National Research Foundation (ANRF): Private sector involvement can be encouraged through initiatives like ANRF, where private players are expected to contribute ₹36,000 crore over five years. Legislative measures and detailed plans should be implemented to ensure private sector participation, possibly through mechanisms like escrow accounts.
  • Infrastructure Improvement: Public sector institutions, including universities and research institutions, require modernization of physical and intellectual infrastructure. This includes upgrading science laboratories in undergraduate colleges, state and central universities, and specialized research institutions.
  • Skilled Workforce Development: Increased funding needs to be complemented with efforts to raise a skilled scientific workforce. This involves not only hiring quality teachers and researchers but also nurturing existing human resources and providing opportunities for skill development.

 Focus on merit

  • Globally accepted standards: Implement globally accepted standards for hiring in educational and research institutions, ensuring transparency, speed, and freedom from external influence. Selection criteria should strictly focus on merit, with competent committees responsible for unbiased decision-making.
  • Timely Appointments: Aim to streamline the hiring process so that it takes at most six months from the time of application to providing appointment letters. This ensures efficiency in recruitment and reduces delays in filling vacant positions.
  • Robust Grant Management System: Establish a robust science grant management system that minimizes red tape in grant submission and expedites the disbursement of grants and student fellowships. Emphasize timely allocation of funds to researchers to facilitate uninterrupted research activities.

Ensure freedom

  • Freedom of Expression: Scientists require the freedom to speak and write based on evidence, without interference, to foster a culture of open inquiry and knowledge dissemination to flourishing start-up ecosystem is essential for translating academic research into practical innovations that benefit society.
  • Autonomy for Scientists: Provide full autonomy to individual scientists to take leave to establish companies, hire scientific staff without excessive paperwork, and allocate research funds as they see fit.Scientists should have flexibility in decision-making, including the freedom to tra

Conclusion: Scientists’ demands underscore the critical need for robust support and infrastructure to drive scientific research and innovation in India. By addressing these fundamental issues, the incoming government has the opportunity to foster a vibrant scientific community that contributes significantly to the nation’s economic growth and societal development.

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