The Anusandhan National Research Foundation Act of 2023 repeals the Science and Engineering Research Board Act of 2008 and dissolves the Science and Engineering Research Board established under it. The Act provides for the establishment of the Anusandhan National Research Foundation (NRF). NRF will have a governing board headed by the Prime Minister of India. The board will provide strategic direction to the foundation and monitor its implementation. The act will provide high-level strategic direction for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the fields of natural sciences, including mathematical sciences, engineering, technology, environment, earth sciences, health, and agriculture. The Principal Scientific Advisor will serve as the chairperson of the council.

Since ancient times, India has always emphasized the importance of research (Anusandhan), as we refer to it, and has generated scientific and social knowledge for the benefit of the people. The Anusandhan National Research Foundation (ANRF) is based on the idea that research plays a crucial role in the well-being and development of humanity. With these objectives in mind, this bill has been passed. Therefore, our first priority is to strengthen the research culture in the country. There are various ways and tools to accomplish this. We must support ongoing initiatives and take research, innovation, and entrepreneurship to the next level. These three areas must be promoted in all branches of natural science, as well as in the humanities, which serve as an interface with science and technology.

First and foremost, the ANRF should develop a short-term, midterm, and long-term roadmap for research and development in the country. This requirement will streamline efforts to enhance the R&D ecosystem. We need to initiate and fund research, cultivate a research culture, and improve research infrastructure in universities and colleges. This will be done in stages, but it is essential to include not only universities that have received funding in recent years but also universities and colleges in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities, which need to become more prominent. This is crucial if we want to expand our research base and reach a larger audience than we currently are.

The foundation will provide support to research proposals on a competitive basis, but it will also strive to foster collaboration between top-level institutes and other institutions in a holistic manner. This proactive approach sets it apart from being solely reactive, which is a key distinction. Furthermore, we need to involve the industry in our endeavours, creating a system that allows us to collaborate with industry partners. Government funding can be co-funded by the industry or entirely provided by them; different approaches can be developed to facilitate this.

Right now, our gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) is about 0.7 percent of GDP, which is lower than that of other countries. However, the government's contribution to this 0.7 percent is about 0.3 percent of GDP. A government contribution of 0.3 percent of GDP is actually not bad; it is comparable to other governments. For example, the USA spends 0.4 percent of GDP from the government side, but their total funding is 3.5 percent. Out of the total of 3.5 percent, government funding accounts for 0.4 percent, while the remaining funding comes from other sectors. If we look at China, they have a similar government contribution of 0.4 percent, and their total funding is 2.4 percent of GDP. Japan's total funding is 3.3 percent, but the government's funding remains at 0.3 percent. South Korea spends 4.8 percent of its GDP on R&D, but the government's funding is only 0.5 percent. Government funding has been consistent over the years, but we need to consider how other players can contribute as well. It's important to remember that these percentages are proportions of GDP, and the total absolute funding in R&D has increased as our GDP has grown. Therefore, the ratio appears to be similar. In 2010, we were spending about Rs. 60,000 crores on R&D; now, in 2021, it is about Rs. 130,000 crores, and it has also increased in the last two years. So, the absolute numbers have increased, but the ratio has remained around 0.7, 0.65, or 0.7 because our GDP has increased. The core point is that the overall funding ratio has remained the same, with government funding remaining around 0.3 to 0.35 percent of GDP. Therefore, what we need now is an ecosystem where other players can come in and support R&D.

The development of interest in science is a gradual process; it cannot occur overnight. Many remarkable events are taking place around us; for instance, the success of Chandrayaan 3 and Aditya L1. The enthusiasm among the public is truly tangible. Naturally, this excitement will inspire young individuals to consider science as a viable option, as it offers incredible opportunities. COVID serves as a fantastic example. Our response to the pandemic did not happen spontaneously; it was made possible by a scientific workforce that was prepared. They adapted themselves to the challenges posed by COVID. The government cannot simply provide a magic solution for each individual to become a scientist overnight. Becoming a scientist is a journey that requires a persistent and inquisitive mindset.

The ACT signifies that we will now need to establish the structure, which consists of two main components: the governing body and the executive council. All of these procedures will be outlined within the ACT, and the focus is on ensuring that the implementation occurs promptly and with complete transparency. It is anticipated that this will take place within the next few months or so, but the objective is to introduce it as soon as possible, providing our researchers with access in a transparent and value-driven manner.

Up until the attainment of a master's degree, women's participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) stands at 44%, which is a reasonably good figure. However, the most alarming concern arises when we observe that this percentage drops significantly to 16%, or approximately one-sixth, further down the line. This leakage of talent is substantial. Only 16% of women scientists, who have achieved the highest degree of a master's, currently comprise the workforce. This is the most troubling aspect that requires attention. It can be effectively addressed if the NRF (National Research Foundation) demonstrates sensitivity towards this issue and implements women-centric programs, but with a heightened focus on tangible outcomes and deliverables.

It is not uncommon for people to go abroad, and I do not pass judgment on that because they often find opportunities that are not available in their home country. The NRF aims to establish an environment that instills confidence in us, enabling us to conduct cutting-edge research within our own borders. It is important to note that a significant number of our research scholars remain in the country, so it is not the case that everyone is rushing to go abroad. We have outstanding researchers here, and PhD students are associated with them, forming valuable collaborations.

This presents a fresh perspective on research and development, as well as fostering a scientific temper within our country. We genuinely hope that this specific act will serve as a stepping stone for India to join the esteemed league of developed nations.

Author is an Advocate practicing in the High Court of Bombay.

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