Science Congress opens to new promises

Subhra Priyadarshini

doi:10.1038/nindia.2011.190 Published online 3 January 2012

Enhanced supercomputing capabilities, a new neutrino observatory and better work conditions for women scientists were promises that the Indian prime Minister Manmohan Singh made to the country's scientific community at the 99th edition of the Indian Science Congress.

Inaugurating the annual event, held this time in the Odisha state capital of Bhubaneswar, the prime minister also made a case for the importance of peer reviewed science. "Over the last few years, the number of scientific publications by Indian scientists working in India has increased at more than 12% per annum against the global average of 4%. India has moved from the 15th rank in 2003 to the 9th rank in 2010 with respect to the number of publications in peer valued journals," he said.

The Indian Indian Institute of Science Bangalore is expected to build a national supercomputing facility at an estimated cost of Rs 5000 crore. India is also considering a proposal to establish a Neutrino Observatory in Theni district in Tamil Nadu with a proposed investment of Rs 1350 crore, Singh announced. He did not announce the deadline for these projects.

The science congress will take a closer look at the role of women in science this time. Singh said a recent study showing a 60% unemployment rate among Indian women Ph.Ds called for grater transparency in selection procedures at institutions and also for gender audits. Singh announced some more sops for women scientists on the occasion, one being the department of science and technology's scheme 'DISHA' to help women scientists relocate to other cities. "The Department will create 1000 contractual positions tenable in publicly funded institutions for this purpose. A fellowship matching the total emoluments of an in-service S&T professional will be provided when she moves from one station to another", the Prime Minister said.

In the Twelfth five-year plan period, India will focus on a major increase in R&D investments. The Prime Minister rued that R&D spending in India has been "too low and stagnant". The total R&D spending as a percentage of GDP should go up to 2 per cent by the end of the twelfth plan period from the current level of about 0.9 per cent. "This can only be achieved if industry, which contributes only 25 per cent of the total R&D expenditure today, increases its contribution. I believe public sector undertakings especially in the energy sector should play a major role in this expansion," Singh added.

The country must also look at expanding basic science infrastructure and encouraging greater research collaborations.

India's Science and Technology minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said the country will soon have a well-balanced, transparent and evidence-based science policy that will overwrite the old policy of 2003. The current policy has compartmentalised R&D and does not do justice to R&D to meet people's needs, he said.