March for Science happened last year across India.
Arun Jaitley made loud proclamations of investing in “research, training and skilling in robotics, artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, big data analysis, quantum communication and internet of things” in his budget speech. In all of this, however, scientific research has been largely ignored. Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Indian government's primary research body, employs 4600 scientists across India in 38 national laboratories. Since the Modi government has come into power, CSIR has been seeing a decline in the proportion of GDP being spent on its budget.
“For the last four years of Modi govt, what we have seen is a dip in investment in science and technology. When UPA gave way to NDA, research spending was around 0.8% of GDP, and now it’s 0.69%. It’s a huge drop. If we compare ourselves with China, the stark contrast is evident, China is already 2% of GDP. US and others are even above, about 3-4%,” Dinesh Abrol, former chief scientist at CSIR, told Newsclick.
CSIR’s budget this year increased by merely 3.6%, which will not be sufficient to even factor in inflation. After considering spending on salaries and other institutional expenses, the amount left for research is less than last year.
In 2015, the Modi government directed CSIR to get 50% of its funding on its own, from industry and businesses. The government had said at that time that they are not “anti-research”, but want to align CSIR better with “national interests”. CSIR Director General Girish Sahni has maintained that research has not been impacted by resource cuts as they have been successfully mobilising external funds. However, the cuts hit CSIR researchers hard.
Last year, scientists from across the country organised a massive March for Science, demanding increased spending on research, and a stop to government sponsored promotion of unscientific ideas. Researchers in CSIR labs told Newsclick at that time how they have no money left for research, and that their projects are in limbo, on the condition of anonymity.
According to Abrol, this is because “they don't want to annoy the government.” Last year, on the eve of the Science March, Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB), a CSIR lab, had sent emails to its members telling them to not participate in the protest.
Even if Sahni’s words are taken at face value, how wise is it to make scientific research and progress completely dependent on industrial demands? Any private institution providing funds for research would want the results to profit it in some way. This means there cannot be scientific research for the sake of science, only for the sake of profits. How far can India’s science progress with this outlook?