Indian Express Editorial Analysis
30 June 2023

Editorial 1: No high table for women

Context:

  • Women constitute the almost half of the population of nation, however their participation in the top decision-making position is not significant.
  • For eg In June 1991, P V Narasimha Rao, the 10th prime minister, appointed a camelot of bureaucrats, technocrats, and politicians to usher in the liberalisation of India’s economy. This team, whose decisions affected the lives of all Indians, comprised solely of men

 

Lack of Participation of women in top decision-making process of government:

  • First, there just weren’t enough women in the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) to begin with.
    • Recruitment rules were skewed in favour of men. For instance, only unmarried women could join the services and had to quit if they subsequently married.
    • It was after the marriage disqualifier was removed that the ratio of women to men in the IAS went from 1:82 in 1960 to 1:8 in the 1970s.
  • Second, such structural changes happened too late. Thus, by 1991 when Rao was putting together his team, women officers were either too junior in rank or ongoing systemic issues kept them out of senior positions.
  • Third, even with entry barriers gone, postings were overshadowed by mistrust in women’s abilities. Women have largely been seen fit for only “soft” departments.
    • India still hasn’t boasted a woman as RBI governor, cabinet secretary, or chief economic advisor.


Women have immense potential but they lack opportunity:

  • Talent, however, was never the problem. India has had female civil servants who were as deserving as their male colleagues, if not more, to be holding senior postings in the core ministries. Some of the examples are
    •  Renuka Viswanathan, the first woman district magistrate in Karnataka, Her file was pushed to Rajiv Gandhi’s office that had just appointed Sarla Grewal as India’s first woman principal secretary to the prime minister. Gandhi intervened and deemed Viswanathan best suited for the finance ministry.
    • Sudha Pillai, who would be robbed of the chance to become India’s first woman cabinet secretary in the aughts, as joint secretary in the industry ministry worked on amending the anti-monopoly law.
    • Janaki Kathpalia, additional secretary (budget), worked closely with Manmohan Singh in preparing the union budgets from 1991-1995. Sindhushree Khullar, then commerce minister P Chidambaram’s private secretary, oversaw significant changes in trade policy

 

Women’s participation at international level:

  • Organisations like the IMF and the World Bank served as revolving doors through which talent came to India. But in all these years, this group has largely comprised men, including the position of executive director (India) to the World Bank to this day.
  • This is also a fallout of the fact that these financial institutions did not have female leadership from even the developed nations until the 2000s.

 

Current position of women in civil services:

  • Today, the problem of “few” does not loom as much. Of the 933 candidates selected in the latest round of the union civil service examinations, 320 were women, the highest ever.
  • They also secured six spots in the top 10, including the top four ranks, repeating last year’s record. These trends are promising as they indicate that more women, competent no less, are entering the bureaucracy than before.

 

Conclusion:

  • However, these numbers do not indicate how many will reach top leadership positions in the services, particularly in the ministries of finance, commerce and industry, home, and defence.
  • Therefore, With the rise in the number of women entrants, the services have yet another chance to reflect on their talent retention and advancement policies such that the high decision making positions are  not just a preserve of men.

Editorial 2: How NRF aims to boost research in higher educational institutes

Recent Context:

  • Recently, The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister approved the introduction of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023 in the Parliament.  
  • The approved Bill will pave the way to establish NRF that will seed, grow and promote Research and Development (R&D) and foster a culture of research and innovation throughout India’s universities, colleges, research institutions, and R&D laboratories.
  • Therefore, NRF has the potential to address most pressing issues in Indian science and significantly improve India’s research output.

 

Broad-basing research is to be promoted by NRF:

  • One of the main objectives of the NRF is to get colleges and universities involved in scientific research.
  • The NRF detailed project report had pointed out that less than one per cent of the nearly 40,000 institutions of higher learning in the country were currently engaged in research.
  • “For some reason, there has been an artificial separation between research and higher education in the country. There are research institutions, and there are colleges and universities where very little research is carried out.
    • One of the objectives of NRF would be to build research capacities in our universities. The union of education and research must be restored.
  • NRF plans to address this lacuna in multiple ways. Active researchers, whether serving or retired, can be encouraged to take up NRF professorships at universities and colleges to start or improve their research cells in collaboration with the existing faculty.
  • There will be no age barrier for such research mentors; they can apply for funding as long as they are active and bring value to the host institution. It also plans to offer doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships to young researchers at these universities.
  • As a result, University professors and researchers will get opportunities to participate in long-term projects aimed specifically at solving societal problems, such as river cleaning, access to clean energy in villages, etc.

 

Research in social sciences

  • The NSF would fund and promote research not just in natural sciences but also in humanities, social sciences and art. This is considered vital for inculcating creativity, critical thinking and communication skills.
  • As of now, research in these areas has very limited sources of funding. “This would be a very welcome move. It is important to integrate social sciences and humanities in our decision-making process. It is an excellent idea to support research in these areas
  • The detailed project report noted that finding solutions to big national problems required not just application of science and technology but an understanding of social sciences, history and various socio-cultural dimensions of the nation.
  • Social sciences, Indian Languages and Knowledge Systems, Arts and Humanities are among the ten major ‘directorates’ sought to be established under NRF, along with others like natural sciences, mathematics, earth sciences and engineering.

 

National priorities

  • While the NRF is envisaged to support all good-quality peer-reviewed research proposals, it does aim to identify priority areas in which science and technology interventions can help larger national objectives.
  • The priority areas could include clean energy, climate change, sustainable infrastructure, improved transportation and accessible and affordable healthcare.
  • NRF is expected to fund and support large-scale, long-term, multidisciplinary, multi-institutional projects.
  •  It also proposes to set up Centres of Excellence in major thrust areas to focus on research considered important for the country. In addition, the NRF would also back and coordinate the research happening in mega international projects like LIGO or ITER, that India is actively involved in.

 

Funding for NRF:

  • The core objective of the NRF would be to sharply increase the funding available to scientific research in the country, both from government and private sources.
  •  India’s spending on research and development has remained below 0.7 per cent of its GDP, when even countries like Egypt or Brazil spend more.
  • Advanced competitors, like the United States, China, Israel, Japan or South Korea, spend anywhere between 2 to 5 per cent of their respective GDPs on scientific research.
  • Scientists have noted that the relatively small amount available for research in India has a direct bearing on the quality and quantity of research output. The number of researchers per million population is only 253 in India while it is more than 1,200 in China, nearly 4,200 in the United States and over 8,000 in Israel.
  • The estimated allocation of Rs 50,000 crore over a five-year period for the NRF does not form any substantial increase in the current spending, but scientists say this is likely to go up once the NRF starts to make its mark.

 

Conclusion:

  • To set up National Research Foundation under National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill, 2023 is a significant step of government to promote research in India from bottom to top level
  • Therefore, It is expected to help India’s research and development  in new emerging areas of  state of art technology.