Singh Promises Windfall for India's Scientists

BHUBANESWAR, INDIA—India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has vowed to more than double his nation's spending on R&D over the next 5 years and build two major research facilities. The ambitious pledge, made here yesterday at the annual Indian Science Congress, is expected to be a highlight of the government's new 5-year plan now being finalized before its submission to parliament in March or April.

Singh said he will seek to boost the country's R&D expenditures to at least 2% of gross domestic product by 2017, up from the current 0.9%. According to his target for the central government, over the next 5 years public R&D spending would rise to about $8 billion per year, up from $3 billion spent in 2011. He also unveiled plans for a $1 billion supercomputing center at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and a $270 million underground Indian Neutrino Observatory in Theni.*

Top scientists welcomed the news. "It is a step in the right direction," says physicist Krishan Lal, president of the Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi.

The prime minister praised India's scientific community for its publishing prowess, noting that in the past few years the number of scientific publications from India has risen by more than 12% per year, three times the global average. But the R&D windfall, if parliament approves it, is more incentive than reward: It stems in part from Singh's belief that Indian scientists are not keeping pace with peers in China and elsewhere. "Over the past few decades, India's position in the world of science has been declining and we have been overtaken by countries like China. Things are changing but we cannot be satisfied with what has been achieved," Singh said. "We need to do much more to change the fate of Indian science."

Singh signaled that much of the new government spending will go to engineering and applied sciences. Industry, which contributes about one-third of India's R&D expenditures, must also step up its investment, he said. Lal agrees, noting that the time is right for the government to set up technology incubators in India's national labs to translate research into products. However, he warns, "Basic research should not be neglected in this rush to get industry on board."

*This paragraph has been revised 5 January to clarify the new spending target.