Government of India’s plan to bring in a ‘Scientific Social Responsibility’ (SSR) is in the final stages and could be notified in a month, Prof Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Ministry of Science and Technology, has told BusinessLine .

The initiative may not be mandatory like the Corporate Social Responsibility (where large companies have to spend 2 per cent of the average profit of the previous three years on specified CSR activities). The idea is to get the benefit of science to society quicker.

Prof Sharma feels that the problem in India is “not so much knowledge creation, as knowledge consumption.” SSR will go a long way in remedying this situation.

The Secretary explained the rationale behind SSR thus: “We have infrastructure resources, human resources and knowledge resources. They may be with scientists, scientific organizations or universities. The idea is to reach out to the society with these resources.”

Everybody will chip in and do their bit. For example, scientists could spend some time talking to farmers, MSMEs, start-up; institutions could bring school students into their labs to “fire up their imagination”. All these counts as SSR.

The initiative is being spearheaded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), which is part of the government. A background note of SERB observes that in 2017-18, about 10,000 researchers were directly supported by the government, with a total budget of ₹800 crore.

“The SSR policy aims to spread the benefits beyond these direct beneficiaries, especially to the less-endowed researchers,” it says.

Three ‘mini policies’

Scientific Social Responsibility is one of the three “mini policies” the government would bring in soon—these eventually might form part of the overarching policy for the development of science and technology, the ‘Science, Technology, Innovation Policy, 2020’, or STIP 2020.

The other two mini policies are for geo-spatial data and sharing of scientific infrastructure. The policy on geo-spatial data management would provide a framework creation, management, access, sharing and dissemination of data. This acquires significance against the backdrop of vast advancement in technology in geo-spatial data acquisition—which now happens with the use of lidars (laser-based instruments) and drones. The government itself is on an exercise for digital mapping of India, right down to a resolution of 10 cm. This, Prof Sharma said, would help avoid, settle land disputes, particularly in the rural areas.

The third mini policy is for sharing of scientific infrastructure. It is generally seen that the infrastructure created with the government’s money is lying idle most of the time. Every year, the government spends “tens of thousands of crores” to build infrastructure, which are sitting in institutions such as the IITs. This spend is only expected to increase, given that the government is launching several scientific missions. Last year, the government launched the mission on ‘cyber physical systems’, under which it would spend ₹3,600 crore over the next five years. Soon, a National Mission on Quantum Computing’ would be brought in, with a 5-year budget of ₹8,000 crore. Yet another one on e-mobility is also coming up soon.

“All the missions that we are launching now or would launch in the future will have equal ownership and participation of three strands of science – industry and start-up, line ministries and the academia,” Prof Sharma said.

All the resources created by the government will be equally available to all the three sections so that “they won’t be at the mercy of each other.”

The thinking is that the host institution will be allocated 25 per cent of the time, while the other 75 per cent is available to others. “(For example) the industry can book any facility anywhere in the country,” the Secretary said.

Incidentally, the Department of Science and Technology has already begun the setting up of a shared, professionally managed, science and technology infrastructure facility, under the SATHI initiative (which stands for Sophisticated Analytical and Technical Help Institute). Three SATHI facilities have been opened so far—in IIT, Delhi, IIT-Kharagpur and BHU-Varanasi. These centres will be equipped with major analytical and advanced manufacturing facilities, which will be available for use by all.