Innovation

National Science Day – The good and bad of Indian policy initiatives for scientific research and innovation


The 28th of February is celebrated as ‘National Science Day’ in India, in memory of C.V. Raman who was responsible for the discovery of what was later known as the ‘Raman Effect’. Raman was the first Indian and also the first ‘non-white’ to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1930. Given the significance of this day, it makes sense to review the policy initiatives to put India back on the research track. Image of C.V.Raman from here
In 2010, the President of India has declared the present decade as the ‘Decade of Innovation’ and the Government in the last decade has announced several new policy initiatives to boost research and innovation in India. The problem however with the present government is the fact that several of these initiatives have completely stalled either in Parliament or at the Ministry of Science and Technology. 
For instance, although it has been more than three years since Parliament has passed the Science and Engineering Research Board Act (SERB), 2008 there does not seem to be any notification by the Government operationalizing the provisions of the Act. The SERB was supposed to take over the activities of the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) which was working directly under the Department of Science and Technology (DST). The proposed SERB, which was to function as an autonomous institution, has the powers to award substantial grants for basic research into science. 
Similarly there is no news from the government on the Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill, 2008. This Bill which is touted to be the Indian version of America’s famous Bayh-Dole legislation had proposed the sharing of patent royalties with the inventors of public funded inventions. The Bill had a tumultuous ride through a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which in the end sent the Bill back to the Government with a request that the entire Bill be redrafted. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), which was responsible for piloting this Bill through Parliament, had carried out substantive amendments to the Bill which were subsequently approved of by the Parliamentary Standing Committee. It has been two years since that Bill was approved by the Parliamentary Standing Committee but the government is yet to make a strong pitch for it in Parliament. This is one of those Bills which will sail through Parliament without any opposition and yet we find the Government dragging its feet on the subject. 
There is however also some good news. In the recent past, the Prime Minister has setup the National Innovation Council (NIC) under the Chairmanship of Sam Pitroda. The NIC came out with its first report in November, 2011. The report has sought to place innovation at the centre of the Indian growth story. Similarly the Prime Minister, who in all fairness seems to be obsessed with ‘innovation’, has announced the creation of a $ 1 Billion dollar fund to finance innovation. While more money towards innovation is always welcome, somebody really needs to audit the existing schemes to fund innovation. For example we already have a Technology Development Board (TDB) and also the National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Board (NSTEB) which were meant to fund innovation. What has happened to these organizations? How are they functioning? Why are we creating new bodies when we have existing bodies? Similarly we have the National Research and Development Corporation (NRDC) which is supposed to be pioneering technology transfer from public funded institutions to the private sector. So far its earnings or revenues do not seem to be exceptional in any respect. Should there not be some kind of reassessment of these institutions before we set about creating new ones? 
Last but not the least, while talking about innovation and research into basic science, it is important to not forget the need for creating an appropriate regulatory and structure especially for new-age technologies like bio-technology. The controversy over Bt-Brinjal a couple of years ago was a sign of low public-confidence in biotechnology. A major reason for this was the lack of an independent regulator. In the last session of Parliament, the Government finally introduced the much-delayed National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill in Parliament in December, 2011. This Bill has already been dissed by several commentators but there is at least hope that now it is in Parliament. Other issues which need to be looked into are existing legislations such as the Biological Diversity Act which has created a suffocating and inefficient bureaucratic setup to regulate any joint research into India’s gene-bank by Indian and foreign researchers. 
Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).

3 comments.

  1. AvatarBadrinath Srinivasan

    A timely piece. Timely and ironic because Sir CV Raman had an aversion to bureaucratic sluggishness in matters concerning science. His views on it can be gathered from an anecdote recited by Uma Parameswaran, a biographer of Sir CV Raman. She says: “Once… a senior person from All India Radio came for a visit, to request Raman to say something on Nehru’s role in science planning for a special programme for Nehru’s birthday. Raman told him half seriously, ‘What? Do you want to lose your job? If you air what I have to say, you will surely be fired'”!

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  2. AvatarAnonymous

    Shri Prashant Reddy Esq seems to know a lot about Indian Science. In that understanding science could be done through a bunch of laws which need be passed on which he can blog. His comments are a mere rant of an outsider who has half baked information and zilch knowledge of science. Since when have lawyers who do not have basic science degree started commenting on scientific organisations. Mr. Reddy seem to be the cheer leader of the breast beating kind who finds fault with anything Indian. Science survives on peer reviews and not out of lawyer reviews. During this very same week, the prestigious Science journal has published a review on Indian Science titled “India Rising”.

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  3. AvatarPrashant Reddy

    Shri Anon – your intolerance towards any kind of criticism or debate on the policy framework for promoting science and innovation is reflective of the arrogance of certain sections of the scientific community in India. What makes your particular comment all the more deplorable is that you’ve published it under anonymously like a coward despite the fact that you are making personal attacks against me.
    It is because of the arrogance like yours that the Indian public have little confidence in either nuclear technology or biotechnology. Having a science degree is not the be all and end all to debate the policy initiatives that would create an ecosystem of innovation. At the end of the day its going to be people like me, with law degrees, who decide the ethical and regulatory boundaries of science. So tone down the arrogance, unless of course you have the guts to come out with your name.

    Cheers,
    Prashant

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