BJP released its manifesto as ‘Sankalp Patra’ and on the contrary Congress as ‘Hum Nibhayenge’. We do not know how determinant the ‘Sankalp’ will be and how much the other party will ‘deliver’. There are points related to poverty, employment, farmers, agriculture, terrorism, Kashmir, Ram-mandir, the opening of schools, institutions, etc but somehow science and technology seldom become the issue of debate in these manifestos. There are customary lines about quality research, more grants to higher education etc but they don’t inspire much hope to us. Big problem research is facing today is funding, which is mostly provided by the government. There is no denying the fact that funding is crucial for good scientific research. If we look at our neighbor country China, it currently spends 2.6% of its GDP on science and technology which was around 0.56 percent in 1996. The country has an academic vision and encouraging research in every aspect. On the contrary, India currently spends between 0.6 to 0.8% of its GDP on science, a figure that has been more or less static for the last 2 decades. Government budgets assign limited importance to research in our country. According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics data, there are only 156 researchers per million inhabitants in our country and currently, the country spends only 0.6 to 0.8% of GDP on research and development (R&D) compared to the countries like Israel and South Korea who spend 4.3% and 4.2% respectively on R&D. USA spends 2.7 percent of its GDP on R&D and the results are clearly visible through the advancement these countries are gaining in science and research as compared to us. They are far ahead to us in terms of research and innovations.
Brain drain is a term we often come across. Indian academia has always suffered from brain drain and continues to lose highly talented, hard-working academics to universities in America, Europe, and elsewhere. According to a report from the National Science Foundation’s National Centre for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), India is the top country of birth for immigrant scientists and engineers. More worryingly, it’s showing a gradual increase over the last decade. A former director of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) had once said that:
“The moment someone joins an IIT, he is physically in India but his spirit flies away to the US, and after five years his body follows”
Despite India having a huge pool of brilliant students, researchers and scientists, many of them head for other countries to fulfill their dreams. But why they do so? This is a big question. There are multiple reasons. Indian research is always hampered by stifling bureaucracy, poor-quality education at most universities and insufficient funding for conducting quality research. The research community is the one which is given least importance in our country. They have to come on roads to protest for their rights, scholarships, and stipends. A research scholar here cannot even imagine having a family during his research tenure. There is no periodic revision or increment in fellowship until there is a protest to demand a hike. There is no timely release of funds, scholarships. One has to wait for months for their stipends. The process of fresh recruitment is bizarrely lengthy, and it takes years to recruit an academic after announcing an open post or sometimes the vacancies are canceled without any information. There is an immediate need for India to allocate more funds to the science and research sector. There is an immediate need that the government takes research, research scholars and science seriously. But instead, the reality proves to be rather contradictory. Since the current government has come to power, there has been an unreasonable decline in fellowships and research grants. Recently, the UGC Non-NET fellowships were terminated without prior information, which led to widespread student protest across the country. Also in previous years, the funds of CSIR, ICMR, and many other funding agencies were cut, asking it to self-finance its projects. Thousands of Ph.D. scholars protested for a hike in their fellowships. Neither the current nor the past government has any vision for science and research in the country. Being a research scholar in the prestigious universities and institutions of India, our conditions are pathetic. We the academicians in India somehow miss the support system from the government in terms of both quality and rewards. There is no government body that can address the problems and issue, a researcher is facing in this country. Why under such an unsupportive government, would its workforce want to work at all? And so raises the question of who shall I vote? Which party has discussed us in their manifestos? What they have for the research and researchers of this country. Painting dazzling pictures with initiatives like ‘Make in India’ or ‘Digital India’ is not going to help till the science and people who are doing science in the country will be given priorities. These initiatives might get the attention of the Indians based abroad but it is definitely not going to be helpful in engaging the researchers and scientists of India who have traveled across and are aware of the scenario there. The path to ‘Achhe Din’ will always remain tough till the time the government neglects the science and the people doing science in India.
Kavita Rawat is a Senior Research Fellow (SRF) at the Department of Zoology, the University of Delhi, her research focus is Cell signaling and Molecular Immunology.