View from India: robust R&D system, essential for economic growth

As the world’s fastest growing economy, India is poised to transform into a leading R&D hub. The R&D vertical - whose size is estimated to be $20bn - has scope to make it to the global index.

Research and development (R&D) is essential for the economic growth of any country. India is among the leading nations that pursue cutting-edge R&D. The country’s large consumer base makes it an optimum location for R&D.

Sensing the untapped potential, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Government of India (GoI) has begun to focus on newer frontiers like clean environment and cutting-edge areas like cyber security, big data analytics and artificial intelligence. All this and more was revealed at the Global R&D Summit 2017 that began in Bangalore last week. The event aims to explore the potential of research and development in catalyzing economic cooperation and social development.

“The growth rate of the scientific publications from India is 14 per cent, consequently India ranks fifth or sixth in the R&D ranking in the world. In another seven years, the country is estimated to be third in ranking, after China and US at a global level. It’s imperative to sensitise people to connect with basic R&D and make it relevant to the needs of the common man,” said Prof Ashutosh Sharma, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India (GoI) speaking at the event.

R&D and innovation for the common man are among DST’s top priorities. DST is supporting over 100 business incubators that are in turn helping over 2,000 startups. Over the course of time, it is intended to double these numbers as innovation is expected to grow exponentially in the next five years.

What makes R&D so important is that it helps in cutting manufacturing costs, creates a diverse talent pool and opens out channels for honing technical competence. It becomes relevant in the Indian scenario because the country is home to hundreds of universities and large number of individual institutions through which a skilled workforce can be built. India has 25 IITs, apart from 200 government labs involved in R&D and over 200,000 frontline scientists doing research.  

“R&D is crucial in India, which is pushing innovation. Through our programmes, we aim to help projects that bring forth a societal impact,” added Phil Shaw, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin India. In March 2017, Tata Trusts, DST and Lockheed Martin have collaborated to contribute to the Start-up India initiative. They have rolled out the newly revamped India Innovation Growth Programme 2.0 (IIGP 2.0). The IIGP 2.0 will invest in social and industrial innovations, offer support for incubation and assist in business development and take ideas and Indian technologies into the global marketplace.

The spotlight today is on orienting R&D efforts towards the Make in India vision, apart from meeting the needs of newer requirements like waste processing. R&D Parks on the lines of SEZ (special economic zones) should be created in strategic locations with enabling mechanisms in the form of incentives and tax benefits. “GoI should invest at least two per cent of its GDP on R&D. An increase in expenditure towards R&D would require private-public partnerships with the industry and academia, wherever possible. If industry invests in R&D, DST too will match it rupee by rupee,” felt Sharma.

In its efforts to encourage R&D, DST has entered into a private-public partnership with Intel India to research and monitor water pollution. This initiative will be deployed using low-cost devices called smart pebbles. These are small devices around the size of a pebble and are smart because they contain sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) to indicate the chloride concentration level and thereby monitor the quantity and quality of water. The real-time data gathered will be used to provide policy-technological interventions for improving the quality of water.

However, in order to promote R&D, it’s essential to build a long-term infrastructure and take into account aspects like mentoring and intellectual property (IP). As of now, one-third of R&D support comes from the private sector and two-thirds is from the government.

Besides the government, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) the country’s largest and oldest apex business organisation, helps create private-public initiatives and engage with policy makers. “FICCI has collaborated with the government and private sector in various capacities for several R&D initiatives at a domestic and global level. In order to strengthen the R&D segment, it’s essential to creating an enabling environment in the form of tax benefits,” explained Shekar Viswanathan Chairman, FICCI Karnataka State Council.

The two-day Global R&D Summit 2017 is organised by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

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