PM moots plan to change face of science

Bhubaneshwar: With India overtaken by countries like China in research and development(R&D), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today outlined an ambitious plan to "change the face" of science which includes doubling investments and urged women to take up careers in this area where they are under-represented.

Inaugurating the 99th Indian Science Congress, he voiced concern over a large number of women scientists remaining unemployed due to lack of job opportunities. Singh also asked the industry to increase expenditure on research and development (R&D) and help achieve the target of spending two per cent of the GDP on research by the end of the 12th Plan.

"This can only be achieved if industry, which contributes about one third of the total R&D expenditure today, increases its contribution. I believe public sector undertakings especially in the engineering sector should play a major role in this expansion," he said inaugurating the five-day event at the KIIT University campus here.

Listing the objectives for the 12th Plan, Singh said a major increase in R&D investments has to be achieved and a new innovation ecosystem has to be created for scientific progress. He stressed on the need to expand the basic science infrastructure and to achieve greater alignment of the S&T sector with the inclusive development needs of the nation.

"We must encourage greater research collaboration among universities and national laboratories. We hope to use the National Knowledge Network to this end," Singh said.  In a bid to push research in niche areas, the Prime Minister said the government was examining a proposal to build national capacity and capability in supercomputing which will be implemented by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, at an estimated cost of Rs 5,000 crore.

He said there was another proposal for setting up a Neutrino Observatory at Theni in Tamil Nadu at a cost of Rs 1,350 crore to study the fundamental particles that form the universe. "Over the past few decades, India`s position in the world of science had been declining and we have been overtaken by countries like China. "Things are changing but we cannot be satisfied with what has been achieved. We need to do much more to change the face of Indian science," he said.

Noting that publicly funded R&D was skewed in favour of fundamental research rather than applied research, Singh said, "It is easier to attract industrial funds into applied research areas and a set of principles should be formulated to push such funding and to drive public-private-partnerships in R&D.

"While research generates new knowledge, we need innovation to use this knowledge productively for social benefit. We need to give practical meaning to innovation so that it does not end up being just a buzz word," he said. Singh made a strong pitch for incentivising private R&D investments under Indian conditions.

Congratulating the Science Congress for highlighting the role of women in science, the Prime Minister lauded the women scientists for making a mark in traditionally male bastions and decisively breaking the glass ceiling. He noted that the country`s Agni Missile programme has a women scientist Tessy Thomas at the helm and for the first time last year and three women scientists received the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize compared with 11 women awardees for all these years since 1958.

"I hope that their examples will motivate other women to take up careers in science, where women are under-represented," the Prime Minister said. However, Singh noted that nearly 60 per cent of the 2,000 Indian women PhDs in science were unemployed and the main reason cited by them was lack of job opportunities. A very small section cited family reasons for unemployment.

Singh said the department of science and technology was formulating another scheme called DISHA that would help women scientists relocate to other cities. "The department will create 1,000 contractual positions tenable in publicly funded institutions for this purpose. "A fellowship matching the total emoluments of an in-service science and technology professional will be provided when she moves from one station to another," he said.

The Prime Minister also gave away awards to scientists for their achievements and tribals of Koraput region for the global recognition they received for conservation of bio-diversity and developing climate resilient farming system. Two tribals Chandra Pradhan and Raita Muduli were also felicitated by the Prime Minister. The inauguration ceremony was also attended by Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Minister of State for Science and Technology Ashwani Kumar and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Deshmukh said the government would soon come out with a new science policy which would include increase in R&D spending and having a transparent, evidence-based regulatory system. For the first time a Women`s Science Congress is being held parallel to the ISC and it will be inaugurated on Thursday by India`s Ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit will also take part in the event.

The 99th Indian Science Congress, presided over by Geetha Bali, Vice Chancellor of the Karnataka State Women`s University, Bijapur, is being attended by over 15,000 delegates, including 500 foreign scientists and several Nobel laureates. Bali is only the fourth woman to be a President of the Indian Science Congress. The last time was in 1999 when the Congress was held in Chennai when the then Secretary, Department of Biotechnology was the President.