New Delhi– Even as India on Friday began voting for the 18th Lok Sabha elections, a report called for increasing spending on research and development (R&D) to make the country a science powerhouse.

While previous “governments have neglected basic research” in India, the elections offer an “opportunity to reimagine science funding”, argues the editorial published in the esteemed journal Nature.

“One thing India’s government can do is to boost science spending by encouraging businesses to contribute more, as is the case for other leading economies,” the editorial said.

“If policymakers and industrialists can get this right, an opportunity to put rocket boosters under the country’s impressive scientific achievements is there for the taking,” it added.

The report noted that India has been far behind in terms of funding for R&D.

As per data from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the country spent “just 0.64 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) during 2020-21”.

The DST data also shows that R&D spending in India rose steadily after economic reforms in 1991, and peaked in 2009-10 at 0.82 per cent of GDP. In comparison, the average R&D expenditure of the 38 high-income countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was around 2.7 per cent in 2022, according to data published in March.

World Bank data shows China alone spent 2.4 per cent on R&D in 2021.

Despite the low funding, India became the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical industry by volume, and the fourth country ever to achieve a soft Moon landing and the first to land near the lunar south pole.

Between 2014 and 2021, India’s research output increased from 760 to 1,113. The last 10 years also witnessed an increase in the number of Indian Institutes of Technology — from 16 to 23.

Further, the report also highlighted low funding from the private sector for R&D in the country. It showed that while central and state governments and universities account for 60 per cent of India’s research spending, the share of the private sector stood around 40 per cent.

In contrast, the private sector contributed 74 per cent of funding in OECD nations and 66 per cent in the European Union.

“Whichever political group is elected, it must consider how to increase the country’s R&D spending, as well as what could be achieved with more money,” the editorial said. (IANS)