India needs to spend 4-5% of GDP on research: Narayana Murthy

"We have to get to four-five per cent of the GDP in research, including government and the private sector. If we did that we would solve a lot of problems," said Murthy

N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys

While the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, in 2019, recommended that India more than double its expenditure on research and development (R&D) to two per cent of the GDP by 2022, N.R. Narayana Murthy, the legendary founder of Infosys, thinks this number wouldn't be enough if India were to solve the pressing problems facing the nation. He advises a much higher spending on research.

"We have to get to four-five per cent of the GDP in research, including government and the private sector. If we did that we would solve a lot of problems," Murthy told Business Today on the sidelines of the Infosys Prize ceremony, an annual award that honours achievements of researchers and scientists.

India also has to provision for fundamental or basic research, not just applied research, he added. Fundamental research is long-term  and not necessarily outcome-oriented like applied research. "We have to set aside a certain percentage of our GDP for funding long-term fundamental research problems. They will yield results - may not be in 10-20 years; but they will yield results," he said.

"If quantum computers become a reality, they will solve huge problems and that comes out of quantum theory. This theory was a fundamental research problem in 1910-1920s. We have to allow for a small part of our tax payers' money for fundamental research problems," he stressed.

Typically, it is a difficult task to convince politicians around the world on the need for fundamental research. Its long-term nature implies there would be no tangible results to show during their political terms or even their lifetime.   

While India needs long-term planning for research, a larger percentage of the GDP, right now, should be allocated towards solving today's problems, Murthy mentioned. "These are the problems we see around us - our roads are not very good, our quality of education isn't good, our quality of healthcare isn't good, our agricultural productivity is low. These are very important problems to focus on," he added.  

The Indian government's expenditure on scientific research and development has consistently increased over the years. Yet, the spending appears to be abysmally small when compared to some of the more developed, or even developing nations.

India's National Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) in science and technology has increased from Rs 73,892.79 crore in 2012/13 to Rs 1,04,864 crore in 2016/17, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, the Minister of Science and Technology, and the Minister of Earth Sciences, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, told the Lok Sabha recently.  

However, GERD as percentage share of the Indian GDP hovers around 0.7 per cent. This is far lower compared to Israel (4.6 per cent), South Korea (4.5 per cent), Japan (3.2 per cent), Germany (3.0 per cent), USA (2.8 per cent), France (2.2 per cent), UK (1.7 per cent), and Canada (1.6 per cent). India's spending is lower than that of BRIC nations as well. China spends 2.1 per cent, Brazil 1.3 per cent while Russia spends a bit over 1 per cent.  

The Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, in a report, had pointed out that public expenditure was the driving force of R&D spend in the country -  a sharp contrast to advanced countries where private sector drives research investments. Within government expenditure on R&D, almost the entire spending is driven from the Central Government and not states. The top three spenders in 2017/18 were the  Department of Atomic Energy, the Department of Space and the Department of Science and Technology.

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