Economic Survey 2017-18 Highlights: Science, Technology and Innovation in India

The highlights of ‘science, technology and innovation’ chapter of the Economic Survey 2017-18 are given here. It also contains six technology missions that were suggested by the Survey to improve research and development facilities in the country.

Economic Survey 2017-18 Highlights: Science, Technology and Innovation in India
Economic Survey 2017-18 Highlights: Science, Technology and Innovation in India

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on January 29, 2018 tabled the Economic Survey 2017-18 in the Parliament. The survey examined the current challenges before the Indian economy and suggested policy measures to overcome those challenges.

For the benefit of IAS aspirants, Jagran Josh is providing a detailed sector-wise analysis of the Economic Survey 2017-18. The information will be helpful for prelims, mains and personality test.

In this article, the status of ‘Science, Technology and Innovation’ in India is analysed. Besides, it contains some of the important suggestions to improve research and development (R&D) facilities in the country.

This analysis is based on the ‘Transforming Science and Technology in India’chapter in the volume 1 of the Economic Survey 2017-18.

Aspirants are advised to supplement the below given study material with the information given in the ‘Scientific and Technological Developments’ chapter in the India Year Book.

Probable questions for IAS Mains Exam 2018

Q.1. To achieve inclusive development, the focus should be on “ease of doing science” in India. Comment.

Q.2. There is a need for greater State Government spending on research and development to solve problems specific to their economies and populations. Elaborate.

Status of Science, Technology and Innovation in India

• Investments in Indian science, measured in terms of Gross Expenditure on R&D (GERD), have shown a consistently increasing trend over the years. GERD has tripled in the last decade in nominal terms – from Rs. 24,117 crores in 2004-05 to an estimated Rs.1,04,864 crores in 2016-17 – and double in real terms. However, as a fraction of GDP, public expenditures on research have been stagnant – between 0.6-0.7 percent of GDP – over the past two decades.

• Public expenditure is dominant, although its share has come down from three-fourths of all expenditures to about three-fifths. This investment is spread over the key government science funding agencies like atomic energy, space, earth sciences and biotechnology.

• India’s spending on R&D (about 0.6 percent of GDP) is well below that in major nations such as the US (2.8), China (2.1), Israel (4.3) and Korea (4.2). It is also unique in how dominant government is in carrying out R&D. In most countries, the private sector carries out the bulk of research and development even if government must play an import funding role.

• Private investments in research have severely lagged public investments in India. According to one analysis (Forbes, 2017) there are 26 Indian companies in the list of the top 2,500 global R&D spenders compared to 301 Chinese companies.

• Publicly funded research in India is concentrated in specialized research institutes under different government departments. This leaves universities to largely play a teaching role – a decision that goes back to the 1950s. It is now widely acknowledged that whatever the merits of the decision at the time, this disconnection has severely impaired both teaching as well as the research enterprise in the country.

• There has been an increase in Ph.D. enrollments in India. In 2015-16 126,451 students were enrolled in Ph.D. programs in India, of which 62 percent were in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This increase is in part the result of concerted efforts by the government, including a substantial increase in the number and quantum of fellowships (such as the Prime Minister Research Fellowships at the IITs). Overall, though, India has far fewer researchers than other countries.

• In 2013, India ranked 6th in the world in scientific publications. Its ranking has been increasing as well. Between 2009-2014, annual publication growth was almost 14 percent. This increased India’s share in global publications from 3.1 percent in 2009 to 4.4 percent in 2014 as per the Scopus Database.

• But in addition to increasing publications, trends in quality (as measured by highly cited articles in table 3) are also slowly improving. The Nature Index (which publishes tables based on counts of high-quality research outputs in the previous calendar year covering the natural sciences) – ranked India at 13 in 2017.

• If journal publications reflect a country’s prowess in science, patents reflect its standing in technology. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), India is the 7th largest Patent Filing Office in the World. In 2015, India registered 45,658 patents in comparison to China (1,101,864), USA (589,410), Japan (318,721), Republic of Korea (213,694), and Germany (91,726).

• One major challenge in India has been the domestic patent system. While India’s patent applications and grants have grown rapidly in foreign jurisdictions, the same is not true at home. Residential applications have increased substantially since India joined the international patent regime in 2005. However, the number of patents granted fell sharply post 2008 and has remained low. While Indian residents were granted over 5000 patents in foreign offices in 2015, the number of resident filings in India was a little over 800.

Union Budget 2018-19 Highlights: Infrastructure and Financial Sector Development

To improve science, technology and innovation through R&D, the Economic Survey 2017-18 has suggested the following initiatives.

1) Improve math and cognitive skills at the school level: No country can create a vibrant superstructure of R&D with weak foundations of primary and secondary education for so many of its young. While India has made considerable strides in improving access to primary and secondary education, learning outcomes have been weak. This weakness denies India access to the intellect and energies of millions of young people.

2) Encourage Investigator-led Research: India needs to gradually move to have a greater share of an investigator-driven model for funding science research. A step in this direction occurred in 2008, with the establishment of the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), a statutory body of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). This body has sanctioned about three and half thousand new R&D projects to individual scientists. It is a promising start that needs to expand with more resources and creative governance structures.

3) Increase funding for research from the private sector as well as from state governments: The private sector should be incentivized to both undertake more R&D but to also support STEM research through CSR funds. Current tax law already favors CSR investment into R&D, but the types of R&D activities eligible can be expanded.

4) State governments too need to recognize the need to invest in application oriented research aimed at problems specific to their economies and populations. This would both strengthen state universities as well as provide much needed knowledge in areas such as crops, ecology and species specific to a state.

5) Link national labs to universities and create new knowledge eco-systems: The separation of research from teaching has been an Achilles heel for Indian science. Universities have students, but need additional faculty support, while research institutes have qualified faculty, but are starved of bright young students brimming with energy and ideas. A closer relationship between the two in specific geographic and spatial settings would help nurture research in areas reflecting the fields of science in which the national research centers have strengths.

6) Leverage scientific diaspora: With the strength of India’s economy and growing anti-immigrant atmosphere in some Western countries, India has an opportunity to attract back more scientists. There has been an increase in the number of Indian scientists returning to work in India during the last five years.

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Besides, the Economic Survey 2017-18 suggested the government to launch the following six missions to improve R&D facilities in the country.

1. National Mission on Dark Matter: India needs at least one mission that is directed towards the basic sciences. India is one of the leading countries in high energy physics and relevant mathematics. The payoffs from this research will have implications for space missions of the future, quantum computing, newer solutions to energy problems etc. This mission can build on the strong foundation of astronomy and astrophysics research institutes in the country.

2. National Mission on Genomics: Genomic research lies at the heart of the future of the life sciences. India already has a strong foundation of life science research institutes which together can make significant contributions in this area.

3. National Mission on Energy Storage Systems: Substantial investments in energy storage systems will ensure that India can be a leader in manufacturing energy storage systems. For India, this will be especially helpful to provide round-the-clock electricity to villages using off-grid renewable energy systems.

4. National Mission on Mathematics: A National Mission of Mathematics will improve mathematics teaching at all levels of higher education with the overall goal of rapidly increasing India’s human capital and research profile in mathematics within a decade.

5. National Mission on Cyber Physical Systems: The term Cyber Physical System (CPS) refers to the machine based communication, analysis, inference, decision, action, and control in the context of a natural world (“Physical” aspect). This is hugely multidisciplinary area, including deep mathematics used in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big data Analytics, Block Chains, Expert Systems, Contextual Learning going to integration of all of these with intelligent materials and machines, control systems, sensors and actuators, robotics and smart manufacturing. Together, these are the building blocks of future industry that will throw up both new challenges and opportunities.

6. National Mission on Agriculture: Improving Indian agricultural productivity, which still lags other countries such as China, as well as create resilience to the looming challenges in terms of rising temperatures, variable precipitation, water scarcity, increase in pests and crop diseases requires a major thrust in agricultural science and technology. A national mission could help overcome the weaknesses in existing institutions of agricultural research and technology.


Historically, India can point to many contributions to global scientific knowledge and technological achievement. However, India under-spends on research and development (R&D), even relative to its level of development. A doubling of R&D spending is necessary and much of the increase should come from the private sector and universities. Further, vigorous efforts to improve the “ease of doing business” need to be matched by similar ones to boost the “ease of doing science.”

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