Private sector to be involved in retaining scientists: Minister (Interview)

July 19th, 2012 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, July 19 (IANS) In a major initiative to prevent bright scientific minds from seeking foreign shores in pursuit of better research facilities and money, the Indian government is working on a scheme by which the private sector will absorb these scientists, pay them highly and provide world class research platforms to them.

A panel has been formed for this purpose along with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

According to Minister of State for Science and Technology Ashwani Kumar, the government is trying to create an “interface” between industry and the research and development (R&D;) sector so that the private sector could take the load of scientists and absorb them.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh making a major push for science and technology in order that India regains its top position, the government and industry have got together to take out a white paper to stimulate investment in R&D;, which at present is a paltry one percent of GDP, and to attract Indian-origin scientists back to the country as well as lure bright young researchers with good research and monetary incentives.

Acknowledging that the government was aware of the fact that bright researchers invariably looked abroad for a better future, Kumar told IANS in an interview at his office: “We have to make science and technology study and research fruitful in terms of monetary compensation and meeting aspirations. Towards this, comprehensive initiatives are likely in the near future. Once industry takes up our scientists, they will pay much better.”

He also said that while in foreign countries the private sector’s contribution to R&D; is three times that of the government it is the reverse in India. “The time has come for the private sector to spend more on research and development so that we can increase spending on R&D; from one percent of GDP to double,” Kumar added.

Elaborating on the private sector’s role in the government endeavour, Anjan Das, executive director (Technology) at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), told IANS that the goverment has instituted a panel to stimulate private sector investment in R&D.; The panel is co-chaired by Secretary of Department of Science and Technology Dr T. Ramasami and past president of CII B. Muthuraman.

“The panel is tasked to take out a white paper to stimulate investment in R&D.; The aim is to double investment in R&D; - with equal contribution from industry and the government,” Das said, adding that the recommendations are being firmed up and the final outcome of the white paper will be out in August.

On attracting Indian-origin scientists back to the country, Ashwani Kumar said the government has started the Ramanujam and Ramalingaswami Fellowships for these scientists. Under the fellowship, a researcher gets Rs.75,000 a month, plus a contingency of Rs.5 lakh per annum for conferences and other expenses, besides research grants.

Kumar said many Indian scientists are coming back to do research in the country. “They are coming back to contribute. We are providing a conducive atmosphere for research and development and a reasonable amount of compensation to pursue scientific activities comfortably,” he added.

According to Das, among the tasks of the panel was to suggest ways to create an atmosphere to absorb Indian-origin scientists in industry.

“One of the tasks is to get Indian origin scientists absorbed in Indian industry and provide them world class facilities for research and the remuneration, and the government can also support in the endeavour,” Das said.

As part of another initiative announced by the prime minister to keep bright scientists from going abroad, the government and CII are working on a scheme to offer joint fellowships for PhD students, said Das. “That means both the government and the private sector will fund the PhD students’ scholarship equally, making it more attractive for the scholar. When a corporate house goes in equally for the funding, then the scholar will be doing an industry assignment and also avenues will open up to absorb him,” he added.

Ashwani Kumar said the government has allocated Rs.100,000 crore (about $20 bn) to science and technology in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) and added that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has “directed that there should be no shortage of necessary funds” for the sector.

The prime minister, while inaugurating the 99th session of the Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneswar in January, had stressed that India’s relative position in the world of science had been declining and “we have been overtaken by countries like China”.

Remarking that many science students were opting for other careers, the prime minister had stressed that “India needs to do much more to change the face of Indian science” and “strengthen the supply chain of the science sector”.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in)

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