Indian prime minister pledges to revamp science

14 January 2003 India is to make a concerted effort to lure home its scientists from abroad and to strip its scientific agencies of excessive bureaucracy, under a science policy document released recently.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vaijapee unveiled the Science and Technology Policy 2003 policy at the Indian Science Congress in Bangalore on 3 January. Nature reports that Vaiapyee pledged to increase Indian spending on research and development (R&D) by government and industry to at least 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2007, almost double that spent last year. This would place India among the nations of the world which devote the greatest share of GDP to R&D. (More)

In comparison, Western Europe devotes an average 1.8% of GDP to R&D, compared to 2.5% for the USA and 3.0% for Japan (World Science Report, 1998).

Vaijapee appealed to India's ‘scientific diaspora’ to return to the country to help him realize his ‘vision of making India a developed nation’.

The science and technology secretary, Valangiman Ramamurthi, told Nature that ‘the mechanisms will be in place very soon’ to attract home scientists who have left India. He said that the new policy would be rapidly implemented and will give universities and research institutions greater autonomy.

He also said that that increasing Indian spending on R&D to 2% would not be difficult, as spending had already risen from 0.8% in 2000 to 1.08% in 2002.

Nature reports government officials as saying that, under the policy, science-based ministries will be run by scientists and engineers, and other ministries will appoint scientific advisory committees. They also say that selected universities and scientific institutions will receive money to strengthen infrastructure. Details of the funding will be left to a task force being set up to find ways of encouraging private and public investment in research.

The World Conference on Science called on governments to ensure stable funding for public research (para. 14, Science Agenda) and aim for high-quality scientific institutions capable of providing research and training facilities in areas of specific interest (para. 7). Paragraph 41 urges governments to accord the highest priority to improving science education at all levels, to raising public awareness of science and to fostering its popularization The Science Agenda also advocates putting in place adequate participatory mechanisms to facilitate democratic debate on science policy choices (para. 56).

Only recently, Brazilian president-elect Luis Inácio 'Lula' da Silva pledged to double spending on science and technology to 2% of gross domestic product by the end of his government's term (WCS Newsletter, 27 November 2002).

Source: K. S. Jayaraman, Nature (421, 101 (2003)), courtesy of SciDev.Net

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