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“STI policy 2020” emphasising self-reliance in science

Source: The Hindu

Gs3: Science and Technology- Developments

Synopsis: The recently released Draft Science, Technology, and Innovation policy has many issues and challenges that need to be addressed to promote Aatmanirbhar Bharat  in science

Background:

  • Recently, the Department of Science and Technology has released the 5th draft of the Science, Technology, and Innovation policy for Public scrutiny.
  • It contains the objectives and goals of our new science policy.
  • But it has many issues and challenges that are highlighted below, along with the required actions that need to be taken.

What are the key objectives stated in the 5th draft of the Science, Technology, and Innovation policy?

  1. First, it proposes technological self-reliance. Which will position India among the top three scientific superpowers. (US, China, India)
  2. Second, to achieve this, it proposes developing a “people-centric” science, technology, and innovation “ecosystem”. This will help us to retain our best minds in India.
  3. Third, it proposes to double the private sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development. This is similar to the 2013 policy.
  4. Fourth, it has proposed the vision for a decentralized institutional mechanism for a robust STI Governance.
  5. Fifth, it also acknowledges the disconnect between science and society in the chapter ‘Science Communication and Public Engagement’.
  6. Sixth, it aims to impart an inclusive culture in academia. For that, the document promises to tackle discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, geography, language, disability, and other exclusions and inequalities.
  7. Seventh, the policy abides by our constitutional obligation to “develop a scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.

What are the issues in the 5th draft of Science, Technology, and Innovation policy?

The author has cited the following issues in the draft science policy that has been released for Public Feedback.

  1. Issues in Readability of the draft: The draft report is written with complex language. It makes the task difficult for the Public to provide meaningful feedback. This destroys the very purpose of Public Scrutiny.
  2. No data on the progress of previous policies: for example, the 2013 science policy had the similar objective of doubling the private sector’s contribution in Research and Development. However, what has been achieved till now in this regard has not been stated.
  3. Policy objectives signify neglect of government responsibility: R&D investment in science is stagnant for several years (0.5% GDP). It is despite strong recommendations by scientific bodies to raise it to 2% GDP.
      • The proposal to increase private sector investment in R&D shows that the government is shifting the responsibility of financing R&D to different agencies such as the States, private enterprises, and foreign multinational companies.
  4. Mechanism followed to institutionalise robust STI Governance is faulty: it proposes for several new authorities, observatories, and centres to instituionalise decentralization. This may end up increasing bureaucratic control which is already high in science administration.
  5. Lack of planned solutions to achieve the stated objectives: for example, the policy mentions more representation of women and the LGBTQ community in academia. But it is silent on how it will be achieved.
  6. It does not provide solutions to address issues in society that hampers scientific research: for example, our belief systems, values, and attitudes have an impact on the quality of research. This explains why Indians who have chosen to pursue research abroad are able to make path-breaking discoveries.

What is the way forward?

  1. First, the private sector cannot be expected to pay for basic research because the return on investment in basic research takes too long. Hence, the government should finance research.
  2. Second, Decentralization of an administrative structure is essential, but it would be a better option to provide more autonomy to research and academic centres for financial management.
  3. Third, we need to control the propagation of pseudoscience in the name of traditional science. It is needed to develop a rational scientific ecosystem for young minds.

With the advent of new disruptive technologies, global competitiveness will be increasingly determined by the quality of science and technology. Hence, the government should priorities raising the standard of Indian research/education centres and R&D spending.

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