About a quarter of a century ago, on the basis of an extensive survey, a major scientific journal described India as a superpower in Third World science. This is no longer true. China is miles ahead in scientific and technological research. There are other countries in what used to be described as the Third World where the rate of progress in science is higher than in India. Therefore, in spite of the country’s notable achievements, Indian science is in crisis in the international context. This is an issue that needs to be faced squarely. Modern scientific research is expensive and its output is often determined by the input in terms of funding. The level of funding for research in India has been low, but India has done reasonably well in spite of it. For instance, in relation to research publications, the proportion of publications emanating from India in the world scientific literature is very low. However, in terms of publications per unit investment, India ranks high.
Investment in research and development (R&D) in India has almost always been less than 1 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). After Independence, this figure climbed, to approach the 1 per cent mark in the late 1980s. Then, there was a precipitous fall in the 1990s. The level of funding for R&D began to rise again in the late 1990s, a trend that has continued in the current decade. It is now approaching the 1 per cent figure again. The GDP itself has grown rapidly in this period, and hence, the increase in funding in absolute terms has been substantial. This is dramatically reflected in the rate of growth of the country’s scientific output, proving, if any proof is necessary, the importance of funding for higher research output. However, the level of funding as a fraction of the GDP remains low in India not only in comparison with advanced countries but also with some of the countries with rapidly growing economies. The rate of growth in the level of R&D funding in India needs to be maintained and further enhanced for sustained growth in scientific endeavour. In addition to funding, the number of scientists in every discipline also needs to increase substantially.I think the last sentence is very important. It is not sufficient to ensure funding but also that the number of scientists increase. For this, I strongly feel that the second tier of institutions needs to be significantly strengthened. For example, all NITs put together in the last fifteen years have published less than 10,000 papers. In 2008, the number of papers published by all 20 NITs is lesser than that published by IISc alone. While the present sixth pay commission has sort of ensured that the pay scales in different institutions are similar, it is still very unlikely that an IISc faculty will shift to NIT even for personal reasons. This has nothing to do with salaries but with more of the research environment and financial procedures prevalent in these places. For example, in engineering, the TEQIP program was started and 40 engineering colleges were chosen for enhanced funding. Similar programs need to be started in science. While starting of IISER's is a step in the right direction like the new IITs, the quality in the second rung of institutions in sciences (like the universities) have to be dramatically improved, not just in terms of funding but in terms of quality infrastructure and economic reforms.