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RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: THE NEED FOR INTERACTION BETWEEN CSIR AND INDIAN INDUSTRY
INTRODUCTION: A serious lacuna in the otherwise spectacular progress of industrial development in India has been the low level of our technologies.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT: Despite being one of the ten most industrialized nations in the world, the Indian industry has lagged behind other countries in the effective and proper use of inputs. One of the factors affecting the Indian industry is the low level of our technologies. An important gap has been the relatively poor contribution of Research and Development to an industry. Indian R & D has been limited by protected markets and excessive bureaucracy. Close interaction between the laboratory and the prospective users is essential, but this does not happen. Government laboratories must have less government funding and more dependence on the market. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) — the chief body conducting R&D in the country — has made a significant contribution in various fields ranging from medicines to space and chemical engineering. But bureaucratic mismanagement is proving to be a disadvantage. Also in the light of reduced budgetary support, it must look towards closer cooperation with industry.
CONCLUSION: To make its presence felt in the international market, the Indian Industry must offer high-tech products. Even to benefit from imported technology a country must have a basic foundation and grounding in science and technology. It is thus imperative for the Indian industry to contribute towards indigenous efforts at R&D which is today chiefly in the hands of the Government-funded CSIR.
The industrial development of India over the past three decades of planned progress is indeed spectacular. It would be no exaggeration to say that the country, has achieved in a short span of fewer than thirty years, such rapid progress in industrialisation and diversification of industrial structure which is truly revolutionary when compared to the preceding century of slow, uneven and haphazard growth. But compared to other countries the Indian industry has lagged behind in the context of effective and proper use of inputs. Our industries have not been competitive to a considerable extent; this is because of the overprotection, uneconomic size and most importantly, the low level of our technologies.
The survey conducted by ASSOCHAM shows that Indian companies perceive serious gaps in technology, as compared with units abroad, whether in developing or developed countries. These gaps range from around five years to twenty years and cover almost every aspect of production. These gap e in addition to the high unit cost of production because of high indirect taxes, their cascading effect, and the high cost of many key input materials.
The problem does not appear to be because of the inadequate expenditure but more due to the broad spectrum of areas on which research is conducted in India. We have picked a limited number of areas for special study and focused most of our expenditure on those limited areas. Further, over 89 per cent of our R & D expenditure is spent by CSIR (Council for Scientific & Industrial Research) labs which are funded and controlled by the government. As against this, in Japan as in other industrialized countries, most of the research and development is by the private sector.
Even in countries like France, Germany, the UK and the USA, where the government is an important source of funding for research, the actual spending is almost entirely in the private sector. This, unfortunately, is not the case in India, where CSIR expenditures are incurred by laboratories controlled by the CSIR. We have in India a bureaucracy for every aspect of our functioning—in culture, in education, as well in research.
The relationship between research done i1t government laboratories in India and its ultimate use is not sufficiently close. The prospective user is not much involved in the initiation of the research and the various stages of its progress. This ultimately results in a low level of acceptability of the research results by the prospective users.
The prospective user tends (whether in the public or the private sector) to go for imported technologies. Here again, our control systems are so rigid that the payments made for technology imports are considerably restricted. The result is that the technology seller more often than not tends to limit the technology that he transfers to us.
Technology transfer is not merely the supply of machinery or drawings. It is ultimately dependent on the human interactions between Indian technicians and their counterparts from the technology sellers. It requires a great deal of openness by the technology seller. The technology seller is unlikely to be open unless he is sufficiently remunerated for his effort. It is in this context that there is a case for permitting equity investment by technology sellers in order to give them a stake in the local companies and provide the local company with full access to the latest technology.
As far as government laboratories are concerned, a possibil4 is to privatise them by asking them to find an increasing proportion of their budget —perhaps up to 50 per cent—from payments made by users and prospective users. This will compel a much greater degree of interaction and exchange between the final user and the scientists. This is, in fact, a marketing approach to research—with the research laboratory marketing its expertise and getting paid a price which is related to value that the final user perceives he derives from the research. At present, such income is a fraction of the expenditures of these laboratories.
Of course, this will not be an adequate solution. If research is going to be actually used, the user must be involved at all stages of the research process, and the researcher must have a close knowledge of the user’s operating conditions and business objectives. This will come about if the research laboratory works like an advertising agency and has account executives who are frequently in touch with the user. The account executive translates’ the different languages of the two parties—scientists and users—to each other, and ensures at each stage of the research that it is in keeping with the requirements of the user. This does mean that research is more oriented to finished products and processes, and less to basic research. Some prioritising of expenditure on both is called for, in keeping with the thrust areas identified for the future in the country.
In the context of the growing debate in India about subsidies, questions of efficiency have come’ to the forefront. The principle of efficiency demands that whatever we do, produces the most optimal results from our expenditures. From this point of view, a good part of the expenditure on subsidies is felt to be unproductive, and many times not serving the purpose for which the money is being spent. It is only a question of time before our expenditures on research and development—at present primarily through government laboratories—come to be questioned on the same grounds. The change in attitude proposed here should go a long way to improve the efficiency of our research and the competitiveness of Indian companies in world markets.
The new guidelines for scientific and industrial research on the anvil, clearly indicate a liberalisation of the state-run national laboratories. The interfacing of laboratory research with industrial objectives should give a new boost to R&D activities in- the country.
Under the new policy sharing of costs, on a 50: 50 basis, of technology research projects would obligatory on the part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the user industry. The modalities of implementing the new policy are to be worked out.
The new orientation to technology research and development has been rendered inevitable in the climate of liberalised industrial activity and increased privatisation of the economy. The newly constituted Scientific Advisory Committee is required to work in tandem with the Economic Advisory Committee, both attached to the Prime Minister’s office.
The question is whether the management structure as obtained in the national is congenial to interact with corporate bodies. CSIR does not carry a corporate management culture. Being almost totally funded by the government, it is answerable to both the bureaucratic and the political helms.
Corporate investment in R&D, on the other hand, is deemed to be result oriented. The big corporations are reaching out for high technology to gain access to the global market. Naturally, the economy of scale of the production system, the market demands, the pressure of the competing technologies, etc., come into play when a company decides to utilise a part of its financial resources in R&D. A company’s management objective is profit, and profit alone.
Therefore, if the industry is to launch specific technology research on a fifty-fifty cost basis with CSIR, the latter will have to imbibe the modern management culture at the laboratory level. A research conglomerate like the CSIR, with its decades-old work-to-bureaucratic rules and regulations, cannot be expected easily to respond to the new policies.
At present, the science-technology research administration works at three levels: the department of science and technology at the top, the CSIR functioning as an administrative coordinator, and the laboratories conducting research in stipulated fields. The whole culture from top to bottom and within the laboratories is bureaucratic.
The creative spearhead of industrial research comes from the bench scientists of younger age the world over. And the creative urge of research scientists plateaus off short of their middle age in general. In the national laboratories in India, it is the bench scientist who gets stagnated. Under the pyramidal structure of laboratory administration, the young and enthusiastic scientists feel suffocated. The brighter ones find greener pastures in developed countries, particularly North America and Europe. The others, resigned to their destiny, grind along grudgingly. Unimaginative management has turned many of our laboratories into job security havens of scientific mediocrity.
The new policy orientation aims at encouraging partnership research projects between laboratories and user industries. Here, the Minister’s assurance that research projects would have the involvement of industry from “stage one”, so that time from the laboratory stage through the pilot plant to commercial production could be rationalised, should be welcome to the scientific community as well as industry. With the rapid rate of technological obsolescence, particularly in the high-tech areas, the urgency of result-oriented R& D should be recognised by those involved in research management.
After independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, concerting with world-renowned science administrators, Homi Bhabha and Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar, planned and executed the vast infrastructure of scientific research in India. Their contention was that vigorous scientific research alone would enable India to absorb frontier technologies. They believed that unless technology development was concerned with fundamental research, India would not be able to escape chasing technological obsolescence. By the eighties, India had secured the position of being the 10th industrial power, possessing the 3rd largest technical manpower in the world. Since then the country has slid down in the world rating on both counts. In terms of its reservoir of skilled manpower India has slipped from the 3rd to 19th position in the last decade.
The involvement of industry in R&D projects in the national laboratories by offering tax incentives is bound to turn the low tide in scientific activities in the country. At present, India spends less than one per cent of the GNP on scientific research, whereas the advanced countries invest many times more. It remains to be seen how the budget makers are going to find resources to raise the GNP share for research.
The new industrial policy allows testing of industrial results abroad. Added to that, tax incentives would encourage many foreign companies to transfer their R&D activities to India, because of the cost benefits and infrastructure of high quality available here. This may also encourage NRI science-technologists to come over on period contracts and to establish goal-oriented research projects.
The new science policy is bound to stress on increased investment in priority projects of industrial application. Rightly so. However, the general running of the laboratories and extension institutions should not be neglected. Attention has to be paid to bringing the much-needed management culture to the research institutions. That would mean performance budgeting of research projects.
The plea for greater investment in, science stems from the fact that it holds the key to improving life condition on earth. That key cannot be properly used unless the political and administrative wings respond adequately to the demands of the user agencies, particularly industries and trade, which generate the wealth of the nation.
The demands of increasing competitiveness carve out a better share in the World trade depend heavily on the know-how application. Close links of the national research base with industries and markets gain significance in this context. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is redoubling its efforts to arrange research and development programmes for Indian industries.
The major function of this apex body under the state auspices includes promotion, guidance and coordination of scientific and industrial research in India. The CSIR has a well-knit result oriented network of 40 laboratories and 80 field and extension centres spread throughout the country, Today, CSIR reflects the entire gamut of R&D fields from microelectronics to medicinal plants: molecular to material sciences; oceanography to space and chemical to construction engineering.
The cumulative annual production based on CSIR technologies is of the order of Rs 12,000 crore whereas the savings to the economy due to the., productivity improvement comes to about Rs 2500 crore. These technologies, contribute to an annual industrial production of Rs 16Q0 crore.
Over the years the CS1R has performed its assigned role in consonance with the national needs and priorities. In the initial period when the indigenous industry was at a nascent stage of growth, the CSIR provided useful back up in meteorology, standardization, testing and analysis, and the supply of trained scientific manpower. Now when the industry has reached maturity, the CSIR has tailored its research and development activities to provide state-of-the-art and cost-effective technologies.
Researches started bearing results a long time back. Not many people are aware that the first wholly indigenous, tractor was based on the CSIR know-how. Council’s contributions to petrochemicals, pesticides and pharmaceutical industries are now increasingly being recognised nationally and internationally. The pioneering work has been done by CSIR in the exploitation and utilisation of coal, mineral and other natural resources.
For rural development through science and technology, the CSIR has started a unit that utilises local resources and skills to cut down drudgery particularly for rural women, generate income and employment, improve lifestyles by improving the living environment, promote health and family welfare, improve agro-horticulture, post-harvest and food preservation practices.
The Council has also helped in upgrading the skills of rural artisans and draftsmen by improving their tool and products. Fabrication and low-cost building materials and techniques, cultivation of medicinal and aromatic points, etc. have found wide acceptance and usage with a large number of people. The CSIR is introducing ‘Vigyan Kendras’ in several cities in the country to give further impetus to the transfer of science-based knowledge to the users and service sectors.
Over the years, CSIR has developed and disseminated technologies eminently suited for the poor sections of the society with low formal vocational training or limited skills—the technique of low-cost pottery and of cup-plate making machines. The CSIR technologies for drinking water like chlorine tablet, iron removal deflouridation techniques, water filter candle, cheap latrines, toilet blocks for village schools are popular among the target groups.
In petroleum and petrochemicals too, CSIR has made inroads into some high-tech areas hitherto dominated by multinational companies. The annual industrial production in this sector based on CSIR technologies is estimated to be Rs 700 crore.
Precocious flowering of bamboo through tissue culture for the first time in the world, micropropagation of tissue cultured economic trees and crops like teak, sugarcane, eucalyptus, cardamom and turmeric, food production from algae, industrial alcohol production *through improved yeast strains by genetic manipulation and DNA alcohol production through improved yeast strains by genetic manipulation and DNA fingerprinting – the second feat of its kind in the world, are some of the achievements in the Bioscience sphere.
In drug and pharmaceuticals, the Council has played a pivotal role in making India not only self-reliant but also a net exporter. The CSIR has two-pronged strategies: Developing alternative and cost-effective routes for known drugs like ibuprofen and flurbiprofen (anti-inflammatory), norfloxacin and ciprofloxacin (anti-bacterial), S-timolol (anti-glaucoma). AZT (anti-AIDS), etoposide (anticancer) and Vitamin B-6.
The council has played a decisive role in the development of the leather industry in India, converting it from an exporter of raw hides and skins to an exporter of finished leather and leather goods. The CSIR maintains the world’s largest specialised leather research institute the Central Leather Research Institute. The latest achievements in this sector have been the development of the environment-friendly enzyme-based hair depilant which is the first of its kind in the world. Automation of wet tannery operations has greatly improved the quality and productivity of the sector.
The closer interactions with the user industries are being cultivated from the initial stages of R&D projects so that CSIR can develop technology packages including turnkey offers where necessary. Centres have also been established to be operated and managed jointly with industry for a more meaningful and durable partnership. The international collaboration in R&D and technology marketing is being intensified.
At present, the CSIR has Science and Technology cooperation with 18 organisations of developed and developing countries. it aims at exchanging the mutually beneficial R&D activities, scientific information and facilities along with the exchange of scientists for working jointly on selected R&D programmes.
The CSIR, working as a flexible vibrant organisation has always provided solutions to the science and technology problems of the nation without isolating itself from the global developments. Its aim is to develop technologies that are globally competitive and apt for the exploitation of local resources and capable of indigenising imported raw materials and components.
One of the most significant events has been its entry into the area of export of technologies and services. It has been able to export the technologies for a few drugs and provide consultancy services. With these, a return of US $ 1 million annually in foreign exchange can be expected. Lower charges of the CSIR in technology dissemination will help in averting import of technology. It is estimated that the import of technology averted would be between 2 to 5 crore per annum.
It is an accepted fact today that no society, however, well developed, can be completely self-sufficient in science and technology. International cooperation transfer in technologies is bound to improve in the years to come. But, if receiving countries do not have a vibrant science base for improving on the imported technology what comes as a timely boon will turn to be a bane, distorting the economy. Besides, if the Indian Industry is to make its presence felt in the international market, the products they offer must have the stamp of high technology.