Apparently, the draft 5th National Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) seems to provide a well-crafted ambitious framework, but the challenge lies in its execution and capabilities to circumvent the operational limitations in the non-conducive socio-economic conditions. The proposed STIP would not be effective unless the quest for science and scientific temper is promoted by the government policies, authorities, and national leaders, including the Ministers and the Prime Minister!
Accolades to the makers of the Indian Constitution for envisioning the provisions to foster scientific temper in the country. Article 51A(h) of the Indian Constitution obligates for development of scientific temper along with humanism, the spirit of inquiry, and reform as part of the fundamental duty of every citizen. This has pushed independent India to take up numerous initiatives in the form of policies in the field of science and technology.
The first policy related to science and technology was the Scientific Policy Resolution of 1958. It emphasized the creation of research infrastructure and basic research in all fields of science. Subsequently, came the Technology policy statement of 1983 aiming to achieve self-reliance and technological competence. Two decades later came another policy – the Science and Technology policy of 2003 – with thrust on investing in research and development, finding solutions to the problems faced by the country, the most important being the creation of a National Innovation ecosystem. Ten years later, came a new policy, the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy of 2013, with focus on exploiting demographic dividend and accomplishing faster, sustainable, and inclusive development of the people.
Undoubtedly, the promotion of scientific temper and satiating the spirit of inquiry has been at the core of all policy frameworks. Tenets and beliefs with no justifiable basis have never been admired by any policy document in the country.
The Draft 5th National Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy-
Kudos to the Government for reworking contemporary requirements and modifications to the existing policy framework and laying down the draft of the 5th National Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy (STIP) in the last month of the year 2020.
It is stimulating to see that the proposed Science, Technology, Innovation Policy aims to bring about profound changes through short-term, medium-term, and long-term mission mode projects by building a nurtured ecosystem that promotes research and innovation through individuals and organizations. The executive summary of the document speaks of its aim to foster, develop, and nurture a robust system for evidence and stakeholder-driven STI planning, information, evaluation, and policy research in India. The mandate is also given for identifying and addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian STI ecosystem to catalyze the socio-economic development of the country and also make the Indian STI ecosystem globally competitive.
There is provision for an open centralized database platform for all financial schemes, programs, grants, and incentives existing in the ecosystem. Also, an all-encompassing Open Science Framework is to be created for providing access to scientific data, information, knowledge, and resources to everyone in the country and all those who are engaging with the Indian STI ecosystem on an equal partnership basis. The proposed availability of inputs and outputs from publicly-funded research to everyone under findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable terms may boost the research activities through enhanced networking and mutual cooperation. The accessibility of journal articles and publications to all is likely to be there from a “One nation, One Subscription” policy.
The hybrid financing from centre and state is contemplated along with the requirement for each department/ ministry in the central, the state and the local governments, public sector enterprises, private sector companies, and startups to have STI unit with a minimum earmarked budget to pursue STI activities. The diversification and doubling of the share of extramural R&D support of the Central government agencies in the Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD) in the next five years will necessarily revitalize the STI ecosystem.
It is enthusing to find the suitable amendment of General Financial Rules (GFR) for large scale mission mode programmes and projects of national importance to facilitate ease of doing research. Efficient disbursement, communication, monitoring, and time-bound evaluation mechanisms and audits are provided for supporting the conducive investment.
New Centres & Institutions proposed-
Like other policy documents, the STIP also endorses numerous acronyms pertaining to various initiatives and new establishments. There is an indication of the establishment of Higher Education Research Centres (HERC) and Collaborative Research Centres (CRC) for providing research inputs to policymakers and bring together stakeholders along with setting up of Teaching-Learning centres (TLCs) to upskill faculty members, which in turn will improve the quality of education.
The draft STIP looks upon the creation of proper protocols for aligning foundational research in India with the global standards while reorienting the research culture to recognize social impacts along with academic achievements.
The integration of Traditional Knowledge Systems (TKS) and grassroots innovation into the overall education, research, and innovation system is conceived through collaborations, fellowships, financing along with necessary support for fetching Intellectual Property Right (IPR) or any type of legal claim with the help of Higher Education Institute (HEIs).
Prime Minister’s call for self-reliance (‘Atmanirbharta’) has found place in STIP. It targets to align national priorities, like sustainability and social benefit, and resources. International engagements will be facilitated to gain essential know-how towards creation and development of indigenous technologies through Technology Support Framework and creation of Strategic Technology Board (STB) to link different strategic departments along with setting up of a Strategic Technology Development Fund (STDF) to incentivize the private sector and HEIs.
An India-centric Equity & Inclusion (E&I) charter is aimed at tackling all forms of discrimination, exclusions, and inequalities in STI for women, those from rural remote areas, marginalized communities, differently-abled individuals including Divyangjans, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds, proportionate representation of women in selection/ evaluation committees, addressing of ageism related issues and consideration of experienced women scientists for leadership roles and regular gender and social audits in academic and professional organizations.
The setting up of robust Research and Innovation (R&I) governance framework, STI collaboration framework for facilitating, stimulating, and coordinating R&D activities across the sectors along with the establishment of Capacity Building Authority to help plan, design, implement and monitor capacity-building programmes at the national and state level may accomplish better outcomes on the areas of national priorities.
Another institution, namely STI Policy Institute is proposed to be established to build and maintain a robust interoperable STI metadata architecture while promoting nationally and internationally relevant STI policy research and strengthening the science advice mechanism at national, sub-national, and international levels through training and fellowships.
Mainstreaming science communication, and public engagement through television, community radio, comics, popular science programmes, citizen media projects, science media centres, etc. is provisioned in STIP. The draft policy also calls for meaningful engagement with the Indian scientific diaspora for fetching the best talent back home through S&T for diplomacy and virtual international knowledge centres.
How effective would be the 5th STIP?
Apparently, the STIP seems to provide a well-crafted ambitious framework, but the challenge lies in its execution and capabilities to circumvent the operational limitations in the non-conducive socio-economic conditions. The reiteration of the country’s STI requirements through a policy framework should stimulate the overall growth.
However, for matching the pace of global development, it is inevitable to bring the community out of the conservatism and overgrowing adherence to unscientific beliefs and dogmas, howsoever minuscule these numbers may be. The repeated instances of human killings on account of various tenets need stringent handling for enhancing the impact of science, technology, and innovation for the growth of society. The rising popularity of unscientific practices with many of them even being fuelled by government agencies and policies in different sectors may prove counter-productive to our endeavours to achieve the goals of Article 51A(h). The ongoing ‘Save Healthcare India Movement’ and the Indian Medical Association’s (IMA) proposed relay hunger strike against ‘mixopathy’ “to restore the purity of the modern medical profession” is one of the best examples of the pushback from the scientific community against the government’s notification allowing Ayurvedic doctors to perform complicated surgery such as excisions of benign tumours, amputation of gangrene, and nasal among others.
The proposed STIP would not be effective unless the quest for science and scientific temper is promoted by the government policies, authorities, and national leaders, including Ministers and the Prime Minister!
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About the author
Prof. Onkar Singh is the Vice Chancellor of Veer Madho Singh Bhandari Uttarakhand Technical University, Dehradun, He has been the Founder Vice-Chancellor of the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.). He is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).