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India ready to become science powerhouse

Science journal ‘Nature’ has said that India along with being an economic power is also more than ready to take the next step towards becoming a science powerhouse, as it called for a rise in the country’s research and development spending, especially from the private sector.

The prestigious British weekly said in its editorial headlined “How India can become a science powerhouse” cited researchers to highlight that basic research has been neglected by successive governments and that a thriving research system needs much greater autonomy.

“Along with being an economic power, India is also more than ready to take the next step towards becoming a science powerhouse. This is not yet a given, but it can happen,” it said.

“In this editorial, we discuss a third aspect: how to bridge the funding gap. One thing India’s government can do is to boost science spending by encouraging businesses to contribute more, as is the case for other leading economies. If policymakers and industrialists can get this right, an opportunity to put rocket boosters under the country’s impressive scientific achievements is there for the taking,” the journal said.

The editorial noted that in 2021-22, according to government data, India had the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical industry by volume and was the leading supplier of affordable medicines and generic drugs, some of which were “crucial” to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide.

Last year, India became the fourth country ever to achieve a soft landing on the Moon and the first to land near the lunar south pole, it said, adding that the country also has the world’s largest constellation of remote-sensing satellites.

The magazine said India is among the world’s most prolific countries in terms of research output after the United States and China.

From 2014 to 2021, the number of universities increased from 760 to 1,113. In the past decade, seven more Indian Institutes of Technology have been established, raising the total to 23. In the same period, two new Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research were also established.

“Now consider that these gains were achieved by a nation that spent just 0.64 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development (R&D) during 2020-21,” it said.

Whichever political formation is elected to power in the ongoing polls, it must consider how to increase the country’s R&D spending, as well as what could be achieved with more money, it said.

Nature said around 60 per cent of India’s research spending can be traced to central and state governments and universities, and around 40 per cent to the private sector. In comparable nations, there is often much more private-sector funding.

“In 2022, the private sector contributed, on average, 74 per cent of OECD nations’ R&D spending and 66 per cent of such funding for the 27 members of the European Union. India today has many global companies in construction, information technology, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and more. They could be contributing a lot more to the nation’s research — both in terms of funding researchers and also infrastructure,” it said. PTI

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