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Millennium Post

A scientific leap

A scientific leap

A reverberating talk of achieving a $5 trillion economy by 2025 has been on the cards since the eve of the new decade — 2020s. Yet, dismal GDP growth figures have somewhat dampened the enthusiasm exuded at the beginning. As the Indian economy copes with the slowdown, scripting back a healthy trajectory that shall lead us to the Prime Minister's ambition of a $5 trillion economy, a calm deliberation over the quality of growth is of astute importance to us. Sectors such as Health, Education and Scientific Departments require higher expenditure to herald a sense of modernity that the high-income countries rejoice. While it is indeed a humongous task to adequately distribute India's expenditure, ensuring fruits across sectors, but with the onset of a new decade, the country's scientific temperament demands a much-needed impetus. India's tryst with science and technology dates way back in time. Across the ancient and medieval times, history enlists the scientific advances that Indians have pioneered. Though India could not be at the forefront of the industrial revolution, after gaining independence it showed a mature understanding by analysing society's requirement of science and education. With a protectionist economic phase that lasted until 1991, India made slow but solid strides to scientific glory. Step by step, the country not only set up brilliant IITs for achieving excellence in science and technology but organisations such as Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for exploring technology and streamlining its use with time. With the 2020s, the time is ripe for India to realise its latent potential in science that also happens to be a hallmark since ages. Barring a few centuries of scientific stagnation that also drained India's enormous wealth at the hand of colonisers, the country's rich culture and scientific temperament are noted throughout history courtesy of brilliant Indian minds — Bose, CV Raman, Saha, Ramanujan, Hargobind Khorana, Vikram Sarabhai to Homi Bhabha, Abdul Kalam, et al — who elicited appreciation from the global order. The ingrained scientific temperament is the reason that India is among the top five countries in terms of its output of scientific publications. However, it does not keep up the pace in scientific investments. A contrast indeed. India's push for having a high education expenditure — 3.47 per cent of total expenditure in 2018-19 — explains the trend. Given how education is the single most important factor that leads to economic growth based on the development of science and technology, an ardent push to the same is inevitable. To this extent, India's Research & Development (R&D) expenditure has tripled in the last decade in nominal terms. However, a closer look confirms that the increase — from Rs 24,117 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 1,04,864 in 2016-17 — is not viable. As a function of GDP, public expenditure on R&D has largely been stagnant, hovering between 0.6 per cent to 0.7 per cent of GDP over the last two decades. As per the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to the PM's report in 2019, India's public expenditure in R&D is well below that of US (2.8 per cent), China (2.1 per cent), Israel (4.3 per cent) and Korea (4.2 per cent). Further, the public sector accounts for the lion's share of India's investments in R&D; the private sector formed 28 per cent of India's research expenditure in 2004-05 which increased to 40 per cent in 2016-17. If we talk of advanced economies, the bulk of investment in R&D is made by private players. It only makes sense for India to stimulate investment in R&D. It is understood that India is a lower to a middle-income country and hence is rightfully behind high-income countries. But even so, India ought to spend at least relative to its income level. But it does not. India recorded a sizeable decline in R&D expenditure in 2015 even as GDP per capita rose as per EAC report.

Facts cite the need for India to step up and improve its ranking in science and research ecosystem. Increasing R&D investment will earmark efforts made to enhance science and technology in the country. Where it lies at 0.6 per cent today, the investment impetus should be such that the R&D expenditure crosses the 2 per cent of GDP mark in two years. The Department of Science and Technology's effort to pool funds from a group of companies in favour to invest in fundamental research is in the right direction. It will earmark additional funds for research in AI, IoT, Machine Learning, Automation, Quantum Computing, Cloud services, etc., that sits on the horizon, ready to be explored and inculcated in society. As we drift towards sustainable development, investment in science and technology is us fattening our piggy banks for a rainy day. India has a fabulous opportunity to tap its human resource of skilled science labour and allow it to excel in scientific paradigms. Through science, we will not only be modernising the country but employing millions that have to look for meagre jobs to earn bread despite being overqualified in the area.

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