Project Administration by Indian Federal R&D Agencies

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

In pursuance of the Scientific Policy Resolution which the government of India adopted in 1958, the national expenditure on R&D, as a percentage of GNP, has grown steadily from 0.17% in 1958-59 to a little over 1%. This percentage is comparable to those of more developed countries such as Australia and Canada (source: S&T Pocket Data Book, 1991, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India). Nevertheless, it is a matter of ongoing concern to the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) that the scientific and technological capabilities of the country should be effectively deployed for accomplishing the nation's developmental plans.

With the goal of utilizing R&D funds more effectively, a major Indian federal R&D funding agency (which we refer to as GA1) sponsored a study to develop uniform project proposal evaluation guidelines to be followed by Indian R&D funding agencies. The first author participated in this study as a research fellow. GA1 eventually enlarged the scope of the study to encompass all aspects of the administration of projects by GA1 and allied federal R&D funding agencies. Together, these six agencies account for more than 70% of the annual expenditure on R&D in India.

THE SYSTEM OF R&D ADMINISTRATION FOLLOWED BY INDIAN FEDERAL FUNDING AGENCIES

Every five years, all the funding agencies that come under the purview of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) decide upon the thrust areas and research priorities for S&T in India. The panel is comprised of both academics and directors of the funding agencies.

The funding agencies then publicize these plans in two ways. First, they send out circulars to national research laboratories and academic institutions. Second, every year they organize a one-day forum to disseminate information about thrust areas, amount of funds available, research proformas, etc. In this forum, they describe the procedures used to administer the funds of the various agencies.

The MST is comprised of various agencies such as the DST (Department of Science and Technology), DBT (Department of Biotechnology), DoE (Department of Electronics), etc. Each agency is headed by a director, who is assisted by joint directors. Joint directors in turn supervise program officers and research fellows. The joint directors, along with these supporting personnel, comprise various program advisory committees (PACs).

Any project proposal which seeks funds less than Indian rupees (Rs.) 1.2 million (U.S.$30,000; at present exchange rates, one U.S. dollar is approximately 40 rupees) has to be reviewed only by the concerned PAC. If a proposal requests more than Rs. 1.2 million in funds, it has to be reviewed by the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) as well. The review of such proposals is accomplished by peer groups, which are constituted by the SERC on a purely temporary basis, i.e., solely for the purpose of reviewing the major project proposals. Typically, such groups are formed on an ad-hoc basis and meet to review new proposals. Such groups form and meet twice a year.

Once a proposal is accepted, there is usually a six-month lead time before funds for the project are actually approved by the agency. Often, the research investigators are under tremendous pressure to spend large amounts of money in a relatively short amount of time (e.g., just three days) before the closing of the current financial year. Unless they spend the budgeted amount of funds, the funds for the following year are not released. Every six months, interim reports are due for projects funded for two years or more. For projects of shorter duration, quarterly interim reports are required.

Most of the projects (about 70%) request either funds for a spin-off project, or more funds and a project extension. Once a project is completed, the project report is indexed and copies of it are sold to interested industrial clients. …