Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Emphasising self-reliance in science

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Draft fifth Science, Technology and Innovation Policy

The article discusses the features in the fifth Science, Technology and Innovation policy and also suggests the areas that needs attention.

Draft Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy

  • The new policy envisages technological self-reliance and aims to position India among the top three scientific superpowers.
  • For that to happen, the draft policy says, we need to attract our best minds to remain in India by developing a people-centric science, technology, and innovation ecosystem.
  • It aims at doubling private sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development every five years.

Following are the highlights of the policy

1) Funding issue

  • Raising our R&D investment in science (about 0.6% now) to 2% of the GDP has been a national goal for a while.
  • Despite strong recommendations in the past by several scientific bodies and leading scientists and policymakers, we are still well short of that goal.
  • The 2020 draft policy blames this on “inadequate private sector investment” and adds that “a robust cohesive financial landscape remains at the core of creating an STI-driven Atmanirbhar Bharat.”
  • Government is trying to shift the responsibility of financing R&D to different agencies such as the States, private enterprises, and foreign multinational companies.
  • But it is doubtful if the various funding models that are presented are workable or practical, especially during a pandemic.
  • Private sector cannot be expected to pay for basic research as return on investment in basic research takes too long from a private sector perspective.
  • The fact is that basic science research in India is suffering from the lack of adequate funding despite grand proclamations.
  • We need to implement the self-financing revenue model proposed in the Dehradun Declaration for the CSIR labs back in 2015.

2) A decentralized institutional mechanism

  • Policymakers are considering alternative mechanisms of governance of the financial landscape.
  • The issue of the administrative burdens of researchers and the problem of journal paywalls is also being considered.
  • Policymakers are also exploring international best practices of grant management.
  • The draft policy visualises a decentralized institutional mechanism for a robust STI Governance.
  • This intention is in fact defeated in the document itself, where several new authorities, observatories and centres have been proposed.
  • Decentralisation of administrative architecture is essential, but we need to explore the practical option of providing more autonomy to research and academic centres for financial management.

3) Steps to tackle the discrimination

  • The number of suicides of students is on the increase in the IITs.
  •  In 2019, more than 2,400 students dropped out from the 23 IITs in just two years, over half of them belonging to the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes.
  • Caste discrimination could be one of the reasons for these tendencies.
  • As a part of inculcating an inclusive culture in academia, the document promises to tackle discriminations “based on gender, caste, religion, geography, language, disability and other exclusions and inequalities”.
  • It mentions more representation of women and the LGBTQ community.

Way forward

  • The document should prioritise important issues and amplify first the problems which have cultural and administrative dimensions.
  • The document does not mention how to stem the rot within, although it speaks extensively about science communication and scientific temperament.
  • There is need to facilitate an environment that encourages a mindset that constantly challenges conventional wisdom as well as open-minded inquiry among the students.

Consider the question “As India aspires to be the scientific superpower, suggest the areas which the new Science, Technology and Innovation policy should focus on”

Conclusion

With the advent of new disruptive technologies, global competitiveness will be increasingly determined by the quality of science and technology, which in turn will depend on raising the standard of Indian research/education centres and on the volume of R&D spending. India has no time to waste.

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