Facing a funds-crunch, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has asked its labs to bank on “external earnings”. In this regard, the labs have been asked to draw up detailed business development reports on technologies that can be out-licensed to industry immediately. The council is left with just Rs 202 crore of the Rs 4,000-plus crore it got from the government this year after its salary bill got inflated because of the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations. In June 2015, the government had asked CSIR labs to look at financing nearly 50% of their requirements from collaborations with industry and developing products that fulfil a market need. While the country’s premier R&D organisation being left cash-strapped would make for poor optics—India’s investment in R&D is smaller than that of some companies, let alone nations—but the need here is to go beyond just the optics.
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Corporate and industry entities are more likely to fund research that is cued in to market needs. A lab conducting such research will not just find it easy to get funding but also could generate enough buzz to get funders to compete in order to get product licences. In such a scenario, the competition between funders could even translate into more than required funds for a lab, enabling secondary research or research undertaken for sheer academic value. Focusing on research with relevance for industry/market could thus potentially work out to the advantage of R&D in the country. CSIR research has yielded many products in the recent past that have tremendous market potential—in partnership with the India Meteorological Department, it has developed a visibility system for pilots that have been installed in 5 major airports and are to be installed in 65 more. Similarly, its anti-diabetic herbal formulation, BGR 34, has taken the market by storm. CSIR needs to look at the current situation as an opportunity.