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With China in Mind, India Calls for Boost in Scientific Research

In this 2009 file photo, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is shown listening to the national anthem at the inaugural function of 96th Indian Science Congress association at North Eastern Hill University at Shillong in Meghalaya, India.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on Tuesday for a doubling of spending on scientific research after bluntly stating that India is falling behind China in the world of science.

His worries were expressed as he inaugurated the 99th Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneswar, eastern Orissa state.

“Over the past few decades, India’s relative position in the world of science had been declining and we have been overtaken by countries like China," Singh said. "Things are changing, but we cannot be satisfied with what has been achieved.”

Indian officials say technology skills are of critical importance to a country whose economy has been powered by its scientists and engineers.

While China’s economy raced ahead on the back of its low-cost manufacturing skills, India has become an information technology hub because of the skills of its software engineers. And India nurtures ambitions of becoming a knowledge hub as it turns out 750,000 engineering and science graduates every year.

But in recent years, concerns are growing that India may be losing the edge as China pours much more money into science, research and innovation in a bid to not just make products for the world, but also innovate products. Chinese students studying engineering and science in the United States outnumber their Indian peers.

Prime Minister Singh wants India to regain the initiative and has called on the country’s buoyant private sector to increase its contribution to scientific innovation. He said it is ironic that multinational companies like General Electric and Motorola have established world class research hubs in India, but few Indian companies have done the same.

India’s spending on scientific research and development has been too low and stagnant, the prime minister said. He wants it raised from less than one percent to two percent of gross domestic product.

“I have often spoken about the commitment of our government to give a boost to the science and technology sector in our country," he said. "We must ensure a major increase in research and development including by industry and strategic sectors.”

In recent years, Indian companies have also complained of a growing skills shortage in the country. They say the skills that engineers and other workers bring to the office are not adequate and have called for improvements in the quality of education.