WILL INDIA SUCCEED IN R & D ? (Research &Development)
DIMINISHING BASIC mindset for Research
Innovation is not a process but a state of mind. Therefore it can’t be learned but felt – Ivonne Kinser
When there was a hue and cry about giving posthumous Bharath Ratna, Sri Narayanamurthy of Infosys, in a TV interview asked “why not to Ramanujan, the mathematical genius?” He was expressing his frustration towards the national neglect of Science & Technology (S&T).
The awareness about science and technology in India is still primitive. The nation’s concentration is towards Politics, Movie mania and Religious fervour. India had produced more than 100 world renowned scientists until 1980 and its continuity has shifted to the West. Recent Indian Nobel laureates and Fields Medalist are citizens of the West. The root cause is the steady decline in research culture in universities due to faulty educational policy. The number of PhDs spiked from 10781 in 2008 to 16093 in 2011 (UGC report). The impact is less impressive. Imagination and independent thinking, the seeds for innovation, are undermined by the examination/marks culture in the educational system.
The encouragement to Scientists is basically infantile. Their discoveries are not taken seriously for further research; instead, they are glorified with titles, awards and functions. Cash awards to achievers may attract sports persons and artists but cannot develop scientists. Researchers need equipped laboratories, libraries, equipment at cheap price, financial support , interactions and support from business world and educational institutions, cooperation from public, encouragement from family and due recognition for the efforts.
There is hardly any public library exclusively for science and technology in metropolitan cities. There are no exclusive TV channels like Discovery Science and Nat Geo for S&T addressing India’s achievements, issues and challenges. Business channels cover mostly finance related affairs.
There are about 100 institutions funded and run by Central Government for S&T development all over India, yet the result is less promising. They seem to provide employment opportunities to the bureaucrats. The exceptions, probably, are Indian Space Research Organisation, Bahabha Atomic Research Centre, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Defence Research & Development Organisation.
Role of Corporate Sector
When the high tech heavy vehicles of Volvo entered the Indian market, the response from the Indian counterparts was that they are also capable of making similar vehicles. There was no answer to the following questions. Why did you not make it earlier? Why make this statement only after Volvo arrived? If you had made it earlier, Volvo would not have come to India. The evasive response is “we are unable to meet the demand for the present vehicles”. Hindustan Motors (Ambassador Car) that gave the same reason 30 years ago has disappeared from the roads of India crushed by the competition from MNCs. This is the reflection of procrastination and trying to stretch as much as possible with existing products and system.
IT companies are confined only to service providing and not product development. Sanjay Pingle reported in Pharmabiz.com (Oct/7/13) that Indian pharmaceutical companies have substantially increased their R&D expenditure but they are focused on new cost effective generic products and not on new discoveries.
The average spending on R&D by the top Indian corporate heavy weights (TCS, Infosys, BHEL, Sun Pharma, , Tata Group) is below 2.5% of the total revenue as against IBM 5.9%, Microsoft 12.9%, Merk 17.6%, Siemens 5.3% and Toyota Motors 4.2.%.(Yahoofinance.com)
“Within the Tata Group, the ‘innovation’ investment over the last 100 years has been sporadic and it’s only in the last five years that there has been a consistent surge and focus in this area,” said Sunil Sinha, chief, Tata Quality Management Services. (Hindustan Times Oct/27/14)
The ineffective government control over fake and duplicate products, copying, and pirating that violate patent rights also discourages innovations.
India ranks 66 out of 142 in the Innovation index. Innovation need not be in high technology. Innovative consumer products from China and Korea have already flooded the Indian market.
The Indian corporate sector is still embryonic in product development. The converging point is “lack of mindset for R&D”. Indian corporate should stop skimping on R&D and think seriously the remark of Bill Gates “You obsolete your own products before your competitor does it.”
It is self humiliation that despite having large pool of highly qualified scientists, Indian industries are thriving on imported, borrowed, pirated and obsolete technologies from the developed nations.
Mark F. Schultz (The Hindu 4/11/14) wrote that there is a big a gap between India’s innovative capabilities and results. The gap is created by the ignorant and aversive public, reluctant corporate sector and Government inaction.
India boasts that it is becoming a hub for research activities of the MNCs. Approximately 150 MNCs have started their R&D centres across India to take full advantage of the cheap talent pool. RBI reported that the R&D expenditure of MNCs in India has increased from Rs. 28.6 crores in 2002 to Rs. 288.3 crores in 2010. Ministry of Science &Technology revealed that India spends 0.87% of its GDP in R&D whereas the figure for developed nations is over 3.3%. During the period 2010/11, 39400 patents were filed in India shared by MNCs 31100 and Indians’ 8300. The Indian government aims only at FDIs from MNCs and never thinks seriously about exploring the Indian talent and skills for Indian industries.
NAMO’s “make in India” will succeed only if R& D is given top priority and its importance is popularized similar to the Yoga campaign..
Dr. Krishnan Arunachalam
(Published in Mylapore Club Magazine July/2015)