India has taken rapid strides in science in the past few decades. At the dawn of the 21st century, in terms of research publications per year, India lagged countries like Russia, France, Italy and Canada. Now, as per the cover story of the latest issue of Nature magazine, it has outstripped these nations, and is quickly closing in on Japan. Yet, it doesn’t figure high in repute in global science. Despite advancements and immense potential in the form of a large base of human resource and a fast-growing economy, Indian scientific publications generate far fewer citations than other nations with a science-focus—the scholarly citation figure for India in 2013 was nearly 30% lesser than the world average, says Nature, citing UNESCO data. Similarly, even though the country’s scholarly output has grown four-fold since 2000, it is still outpaced by Brazil and China, two emerging economies of the BRICS grouping which India is also part of.
Consider the density of scientific researchers; India, with 4 researchers per 10,000 in the labour force, is behind Kenya (6), Brazil (14) and China (18). And as far as patent strength is concerned, measured as the number of domestic and international patents filed per million population, in 2013, India (17) was behind Brazil (34), Russia (237), China (541) while Japan and South Korea were at the deep end of the pool with 3,716 and 4,451 patents, respectively. With poor investment in R&D—even as Brazil and Russia spend nearly 1.7% of their GDP on R&D while China spent nearly 2%—India has flatlined at 0.8-0.9% since 2000 onwards. Getting more private investment into R&D will help, and that, thankfully, is starting to happen. Also, given the rich dividends agri- and pharma-biotech could pay off in the country—at the moment, research on cheap vaccines for many diseases, from hepatitis to rotavirus, has started to yield results—the government encouraging these areas of research, as stated by Union science minister Harsh Vardhan, is also a welcome sign.