Former Secretary, Department of Science and Technology
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has been an agency of long standing in funding R&D and innovation, primarily in academic and research institutions across the country. In addition to providing grants to investigators for meritorious proposals, DST has been a major source of funding building of R&D infrastructure in the country’s academia via a number of schemes: FIST (Funds for Infrastructure in Science and Technology), PURSE (Promotion of University Research and Scientific Excellence), SAIF (Sophisticated Analytical Instrument Facilities), and the newest SAIF-like program, SATHI (Sophisticated Analytical and Technical Help Institute), and through thousands of research projects and a plethora of Centres of Excellence. Through several “rounds” of FIST and PURSE, projects and Centres, substantial R&D infrastructure has been established in a large number of institutions in the country. However, such facilities are not easily and universally accessible to researchers in institutions with less R&D focus and to industry (including MSMEs) and start-ups. The various SAIFs across the country are meant to provide access to analytical facilities to all – from the academia, as well as industry. Indeed, over the years, tens of thousands of researchers from institutions big and small, and from industry, have benefited from the SAIFs.However, with a rapid expansion of our S&T ecosystem and increasing emphasis on R&D programs, there is still an unmet need for ever more S&T infrastructure, including a variety of specialized instruments, from analytical testing to fabrication to research resources. Hence, it is highly desirable and hugely beneficial if the existing infrastructure, in its period of latency, is shared with transparency and ease of access. Equipment, even when not used extensively, becomes obsolete. They also often require resources for maintenance and manpower. Sharing of our resources addresses these twin problems while making our investments more effective. Active and regular sharing of S&T facilities also activates the latent scientific manpower which resides in the remote regions, and in the smaller and less endowed institutions. The I-STEM web portal (Indian Science, Technology, and Engineering facilities Map) addresses this vital need directly, by enabling a transparent and convenient way to list and share public-funded R&D facilities with researchers who need to use them, from anywhere across the country. This portal is a live inventory of sharable resources, which should aid in the planning of our current research projects, as well as provide an evidenced-based roadmap for the future expansion of public-funded facilities. I-STEM portal allows for online scheduling of time to use a facility, and for secure online payments that help partially defray the cost. Just as importantly, the I-STEM program has the potential to promote cooperation and collaboration among researchers, leading to outcomes beneficial to the growth of science, technology, and innovation. I therefore urge all institutions and researchers to abide by the Government’s mandate to list R&D facilities in their labs, groups, and centres on the I-STEM portal, and to share them for the benefit of all the stakeholders of S&T in the nation. It’s indeed both our individual and collective Scientific Social Responsibility to do so!