Go-ahead for Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB),
Chronicle Editor @ Dec 31, 2008
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Go-ahead to science think tank


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CNR Rao: ‘Delighted’


New Delhi, Dec. 12: The Lok Sabha today passed a bill to create India's first autonomous agency to fund science and engineering research, taking closer to reality an idea first proposed by science policy makers more than two decades ago.

The bill for a Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), which will also have to be passed by the Rajya Sabha, seeks to build a new agency with an independent budget to plan and fund research in academic institutions and other organisations.

"I'm delighted. This is the greatest thing that's happened to Indian science," said C N R Rao, the head of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.

"We first started working on this in 1985-86," Rao told The Telegraph . Despite attempts in the 1980s and again in the 1990s to initiate the process, it was only in 2005 that the Council pitched the idea of the SERB to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who agreed.

It will have "greater autonomy" than existing government science funding agencies and is expected to work with an annual budget of about Rs 1000 crore, Rao said.

"This will be India's big think tank for science and engineering," said Maharaj Kishan Bhan, secretary, department of biotechnology. "It'll look at the big picture, the long-term, plan for mega-projects as well as guide reform in scientific research in universities."

But some top university scientists have already cautioned that the proposed constitution of the SERB puts a question mark on the level of its true autonomy.

The secretaries of several government departments -- including science and technology, biotechnology, earth sciences and health research -- will be members of the SERB. Other members will be drawn from academic institutions, research laboratories, and experienced scientists -- all appointed by the central government.

"We don't know how this mechanism will be different from any of the multiple funding mechanisms India already has," said a senior scientist at the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, who requested anonymity.

"Autonomy is an interesting notion. All our universities and higher educational institutions are supposed to be autonomous, but we all know what the reality is," the scientist said.

Most scientists agree India needs to reform the way science is funded. "There's virtually no coordination between existing science funding agencies. Funds are sometimes doled out without accountability," said Kasturi Lal Chopra, former director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

"But high level of government influence on the Board may only mean more inefficiency and less autonomy" Chopra said.

One researcher expressed concern about the control of funding by SERB. "There's been a trend in India where fewer and fewer people control large amounts of science funding. The SERB may accentuate that trend," said Nandula Raghuram, a biologist at the Indraprastha University, New Delhi.



Ministry of Science & Technology




Science and Engineering Research Board


16:28 IST



The Government has decided to set up a Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) in the country as an autonomous body through an Act of Parliament.

The SERB shall be chaired by the Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Science and Technology and shall have other senior government functionaries and eminent scientists from different fields of science and technology as members. The Board shall also be advised by an Oversight Committee of Experts chaired by a scientist of international repute. SERB is being set up for promoting basic research in Science and Engineering and to provide financial assistance to scientists, academic institutions, R&D laboratories, industrial concerns and other agencies for such research. The creation of SERB, apart from significantly enhancing the level of basic research funding, shall also impart the necessary autonomy, flexibility and speed in shaping the research programmes and delivery of funds to researchers. This has become necessary to be able to effectively respond to the fast-changing contours of advanced research and ever-increasing global competition.

The Science and Engineering Research Board Bill, 2008 was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 12, 2008 and by the Rajya Sabha on December 19, 2008. The Board will be constituted after the Act comes into force.

This information was given by Union Minister for Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Shri Kapil Sibal in a written reply to a question by Shri K.C. Pallani Shamy in the Lok Sabha today.









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