The Union Cabinet has recently approved the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023, which is set to be introduced in the Parliament.
This topic of “National Research Foundation Bill 2023- All You Need to Know” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
About the Bill:
The approval of this Bill will establish the NRF, an apex body that aims to guide scientific research in India. This establishment follows the recommendations outlined in the National Education Policy (NEP), with an estimated cost of ₹50,000 crore spanning from 2023 to 2028. The bill also suggests repealing the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) and integrating it into the NRF, introducing an innovative approach to the management and funding of scientific research.
Establishing NRF and the Governing Structure
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will serve as the administrative department for NRF. The NRF will be governed by a Governing Board comprising eminent researchers and professionals from various disciplines.
- The Prime Minister will serve as the ex-officio President of the Board.
- The Union Minister of Science & Technology and Union Minister of Education will be the ex-officio Vice-Presidents.
- The functioning of the NRF will be overseen by an Executive Council chaired by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India.
Significance of the NRF
The NRF aims to ensure equitable distribution and execution of scientific research. Currently, esteemed institutions such as the IITs and IISc receive a significant portion of research funding, while state universities receive only a minor part (approximately 10%).
- The NRF intends to rectify this disparity by prioritizing research funding.
- It is expected to mobilize around ₹36,000 crore from the private sector, stimulating greater participation in research.
- The Executive Council will determine the areas that require support.
- The government will contribute ₹10,000 crore over five years.
- The DST, a significant source of funds for several autonomous research bodies, will continue to receive its annual budget.
Collaboration and Interface Mechanisms
The NRF will instigate collaborations between the industry, academia, and government departments and research institutions. This initiative will establish an interface mechanism for participation and contribution of industries and state governments, alongside scientific and line ministries.
- The foundation aims to create a policy framework and regulatory processes that encourage collaboration and increased spending by the industry on research and development (R&D).
Subsuming SERB into NRF
The proposed Bill aims to repeal the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), established in 2008, and subsume it into the NRF. The SERB, a statutory body of the DST, has been critical in establishing a sustainable research ecosystem in India, which will now be integrated under the NRF’s mandate.
- The budgetary allocation for the SERB had steadily increased from ₹200 crore in 2011-12 to ₹1,000 crore in 2018-19, although it experienced a dip in the following years.
- It is hoped that the budgetary allocation for the NRF will not be reduced by the amount allocated for the SERB.
The Kasturirangan Committee, which proposed the establishment of the NRF, recommended an annual grant of Rs. 20,000 Crores (or 0.1% of GDP). However, a Press Information Bureau release suggests that the NRF will have ₹10,000 crore for five years, totaling ₹50,000 crore.
- The government grant or budgetary support would be a maximum of ₹14,000 crore, while the remainder (₹36,000 crore) is to be mobilized through industry and other private philanthropic sources.
The proposed NRF comes as a crucial step forward in augmenting the research ecosystem in India. A more equitable distribution of research funds and a heightened involvement from the private sector can fuel scientific discoveries and innovations across the nation. However, there’s a need for a well-defined framework that prevents duplication of efforts and ensures a harmonious working relationship with existing funding agencies.
The NRF Bill, 2023, embodies a significant development in the trajectory of India’s scientific research sector. It echoes the core ethos of the National Education Policy and amplifies the need for collaborative research efforts. By amalgamating SERB into its structure, the NRF demonstrates a commitment to sustaining a robust research ecosystem. However, as with any new initiative, its effectiveness will be evaluated by its implementation, particularly the fulfilment of financial commitments and the development of clear operational protocols.
Practice Question for Mains
What are the major proposals of the National Research Foundation Bill 2023? Discuss its significance. (250 words)