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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Democratizing Research : Opportunity under STI policy 2013 ( part 3)

How much we spend on promoting Science, Technology and Innovation? NSTMIS of DST collects some data every year on R&D. The objectives of STI can be broadly grouped under 3 heads: RESEARCH, TECHNOLOGY, INNOVATION and let us look at major opportunities in each group.

As anywhere in the world, majority of the funding for research in India comes through the government.  Both DBT as well as DST, have various extramural funding schemes. Other agencies that fund extramural grants include Department of scientific and Industrial research- DSIR, Department of Atomic Energy- DAE, Department of Ocean Development and Earth Sciences and Department of space – to name a few. 
Many of the funding bodies including DST and DBT, have autonomous research institutes/universities under their umbrella. These institutions receive their core funding through one of the agencies. Each also routes core/intramural funding towards autonomous institutions that fall under the umbrella of a particular agency. For example the IISERs are all MHRD institutions while the NISERs are DAE funded. Similarly ICAR, ICMR and CSIR fund over 20 institutions each all around India. Apart from funding research, the agencies also award small grants for Symposia and workshops. They also award travel grants for attending conferences.

Opportunity area 1: Give autonomy for centrally funded institutes

Institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs); Central Universities; institutions under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Indian Council for Agricultural Research and Indian Council for Medical Research; and those supported by the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Biotechnology and the Ministry of Earth Sciences are all designed to be autonomous. The governing bodies of a number of them are chaired by eminent scientists or scholars. 
These institutes get direct funding from administrative ministry as well as indirect funding from scientific departments under various programs. They often complain of bureaucratic processes of scientific departments managing the promotional programs. Combining direct and indirect funding and transferring the total as budgetary support would bring more transparency and improve the accountability of the funded institutes.  

Opportunity area 2: providing a lifeline for non-government research and academic institutes

How much money is available for non-government institutes? A cursory look at the data of NSTMIS for extra mural research in Engineering and Technology for the year 2009-10 shows the total budgetary support to all private institutes in the nation is less than Rs 10 crores. Not surprising considering the system of expert evaluation where the same expert looks both at proposals of IIT/ IISc/CSIR and an upcoming private educational institute. Excluding the centrally funded institutes as highlighted in opportunity area 1 would provide for fair competition to thousands of researchers not drawing salary from treasury.
Opportunity area 3: Use money collected as R&D Cess for technology development
The government collects R&D cess @5% on imported technology and supposed to spend it on technology development. Statistics available on TDB site for the period 1967-2003 shows that out of Rs 625 crores collected only Rs 333 crores were transferred to TDB. The current figures are not available. There has been a jump on technology payments since liberalisation and  relative decline in TDB funding, it may be assumed that total funds released to technology development programs like TDB, TDDB, NMITLI, SIBRI etc is much less than collected from industry. 
Instead of planning commission allocating budget for various technology promotion programs seperately, the R&D cess collected from Industry may be transferred fully to TDB to fund only technology development programs of Industry.
Opportunity Area 4: give tax concession for crowd funding of start-ups
There are few programs directly supporting innovators like TePP, Incbation support etc with meager allocations. The Indian public can invest several times more in new technology ventures if only investment in start-ups prior to IPO entitles individual investor to tax concession like Rajiv Gandhi Equity Scheme. Is Rs 100 crore tax concession too much to ask for a nation with trillion dollar budget?

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