Scientific academic Research in India

In democracy taxes is not the extortion by autocrats to maintain their lifestyle but a pooling by citizens for collective good of the nation. Take a look at your tax filing, there is a Krishi Vikas Cess for Agriculture improvements, there is an education cess for academic breakthroughs. Then there is cess for infrastructure etc. etc. Government has built a war chest through this excesses but has the spending/quality kept pace with the tax collection?

  1. Extra Mural Research Grant (http://www.serb.gov.in/emr.php) used to be the largest source of fundamental research in the country. (average funding of 35Lakhs and no cap on the size of the proposal) Earlier it used to be open all year long, three years ago it got a renewed focus and was renamed as Core Research grant. Naturally one expects that would mean extra focus, visibility and better branding for the scheme. However, the opposite happened. It immediately stopped accepting application year long and set up 2 six monthly windows. (31st July and 31st Dec). Then it 2017, without any rationale the December 2017 “Call for proposals” was cancelled. ((http://serbonline.in/SERB/emr?HomePage=New) The fund disbursement for the July 2017 is also not complete. As a result there are scores of lab equipment that was ordered but never paid for, research assistants who have become disillusioned because of lack of salaries. Some are still bootstrapping out of passion, but the youth is questioning the merit of pursuing a career in research.
  2. GIAN Initiative (Global Initiative for academic networks) This scheme was aimed at foreign scholars and inviting them to take up courses in India. Last summer there was the first round of proposal submission but the funds for the same is yet to be disbursed. Nobody is yet talking about the second round for the initiative.(each institute has its own site and my alma mater’s website is http://www.gian.iitkgp.ac.in/cgenmenu/guidelines) Some institutions taped their own resources to reimburse their guest faculty, but most of them issued an INR IoU which has been overdue for almost a year. Rather than fostering a healthy cultural exchange and flow of ideas, it only
  3. IMPRINT: It was launched with a grand vision of 1000cr across 10 domains for result oriented research in Nov 2015. People who were selected and signed the MOU for the first round are still waiting for the disbursements. Lucky ones have got ¼ funding. However, its beginning of 2018 and yet the second round is yet to be announced. (http://imprint-india.org/national-coordinators/IMPRINT_Launch_5Nov15.pdf
    http://imprint-india.org/national-coordinators/MoU_Signing_Ceremony_in_Hotel_Ashok-31Mar16-IMPRINT.pdf
    http://imprint-india.org/national-coordinators/Apex_Committee_Meeting-29Feb16.pdf)

 

Policy uncertainty is the biggest political risk in any eco-system. It breeds nepotism and corruption by giving bureaucrats power to selectively enforce norms/disburse rewards without any compliance or sane rationale for the same. The proposals get sandbagged because the suppliers (researchers) need to recoup the loss and make provision for uncertainty/withholding without rationale by the grant commission. The equipment manufacturer, lab technicians become disillusioned with the delays in payment and often move to industry where the volumes are high and there is a considerable repeat use of their wares/services. In the end the nation ends up with expensive substandard R&D which is partially able to solve the problems faced by the industry a decade ago and has little novelty or practicality in today’s world.

A friend of mine who spend several decades in Indian manufacturing had one said “Indians are good only at ppt making, trading and an occasional reverse engineering. They will have lofty visions but no concrete steps, roadmap or actionable plan to achieve it.” The state of Indian R&D research seems to concur with the hypothesis.

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