With fewer and fewer research proposals getting approved, delay in the release of funding for approved proposals, and only a fraction of the approved funding being released, science in India is facing some grave challenges, says an editorial in the Proceedings of the Indian National Academy of Sciences. Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST denies these and instead says funding for science has nearly doubled in 2017-2018 compared with 2014-2015.
An editorial published in an Indian science journal highlights the gloomy state of science funding in India. Increasing number of research project proposals submitted to different funding agencies are not getting funded, and there is inordinate delay of one or more years in releasing the initial or the subsequent funding when proposals do get approved, says the editorial. And when released, the amount is “often a fraction” of the actual amount approved says Subhash C. Lakhotia in the editorial published in the Proceedings of the Indian National Academy of Sciences. Prof. Lakhotia is from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and editor-in-chief of the journal. There is also “undue emphasis” on translational research at the cost of supporting basic research, the editorial says.
The editorial says committee members are often told in so many words by the funding agencies either directly or indirectly that “fewer projects should be approved because of constraints on the available funds”. The funding not released on time for a new or ongoing project “disrupts the research” leading to lower morale, Prof. Lakhotia writes.
Funding for science has remained static at about 0.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) for about two decades. While there would have been an increase in total amount for R&D due to increase in GDP, the marginal increase is “offset by the increase in the number of researchers and institutions” and inflation. “The net result is that in real terms the per capita funds available for R&D activities have not increased but, in fact, may be less,” notes the editorial.
Contesting the claims made in the editorial, Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology (DST) says: “The funding for science has nearly doubled in 2017-2018 compared with 2014-2015. It has increased by about 65% in the case of Department of Biotechnology (DBT), 45% for Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and 90% for DST.”
“If funding for science has nearly doubled [since 2014-15], where is this increased funding going? How was this increased funding actually spent? Was it available for research or any other activity or scheme like fellowships?” asks Prof. Lakhotia. “Fact is that for competitive research, the actual funding available has gone down.”
In June last year, Dr Girish Sahni, Director-General of CSIR had written to directors of all labs saying that the funding is “tight” and asked them to “look outside of the CSIR to meet their expenses”. In February this year, Dr. Sahni said unlike last year, CSIR is no longer facing a fund crunch.
While Prof. Sharma admitted that the number of scientists and institutions has increased, he did not mention if this resulted in a reduction in funding to individual researchers. Strongly denying any fund allocation for ancient Indian science as made out in the editorial, Prof. Sharma says: “There is no funding of the kind I know of to prove or disprove ancient Indian science. There is no funding support for pseudoscience. So that is surely not the reason why there is less money for other researchers.”
And about many research scholars not getting their scholarships on time, with delay as long as a year not uncommon, Prof. Sharma says: “Over 90% of PhD scholars are getting their fellowships on time. The delay, if any, is due to paperwork not being complete.”
“We have been supporting and funding science in various ways. The National post-doctoral fellowship programme started about one-and-half years ago is funding 2,500 post-docs,” Prof. Sharma says. “Each post-doc is funded Rs.10 lakh per year. So we are spending Rs.250 crores per year for this programme. Though funding for this post-doc programme helps research, this does not get reflected in increased science funding.”