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It’s a Simple Matter of Investment
A Synchrotron is Welcome, But India still needs a Thriving R&D Culture

There is a plan to set up a ‘synchrotron’ in West Bengal with an investment estimate of Rs.60 billion to be made by the Indian government and private players, a concept that exists only in four countries – US, France, Japan and Germany. It is being hailed as India’s arrival into the Big Boys club in R&D. A synchrotron is a cyclical particle accelerator (like the one at the most famed CERN) that has its application in various streams of sciences. Truly, in the scientific industry, it’s equivalent to sending a man to the moon. For India, it’s not only a matter of pride, but a step towards rebranding itself as an upmarket research and development hub.

But keep this synchrotron instance to one side, and one starts viewing huge gaps in our R&D efforts. As per the latest data from the Ministry of Science and Technology, there were 3960 R&D institutions as of 2006, of which 707 were by the Central Government, 834 by State Governments and 2020 by private sectors. Total investment during 2002-03 was $3.91 billion, which was just 0.8% of the GNP. However, that increased to 2% of GDP in 2008.

But these numbers shrink when one compares the same to benchmark countries. OECD commented that even in 2006, China was apparently investing $136 billion in R&D. As of 2008, India had 1.5 lakh researchers compared to China’s 10 lakh plus. Even the US had a total R&D expenditure in 2006 of $340 billion. Global expenditure on R&D has dramatically increased from $525 billion in 1999 to $1.1 trillion in 2007. Positively looking, the patents granted in India had increased from 1078 during 2002-03 to 15220 during 2006-07. But in the same year, the European patent office issued 62,780 patents; and the US, 173,771 patents. Without doubt, while India might be notably proud of its latest synchrotron plans, it falls massively short of being up to the task at the global R&D frontier. The first step is increasing R&D expenditure.

By:- Akram Hoque

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