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Researchers and academicians hope Pune is among ‘top 9 research cities’ mentioned in budget

In her budget speech on Monday, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, "Many of our cities have various research institutions, universities and colleges supported by the government of India.

Written by Anjali Marar | Pune |
February 2, 2021 1:22:48 am
Funding tap open, enhanced outlay of Rs 1.18 lakh crore for highways sectorSitharaman said that some of the flagship corridors and other important projects would see considerable activity in 2021-22.

Scientists and researchers in Pune are hopeful about the city’s inclusion in the list of nine Indian cities where the Centre plans to set up umbrella bodies to oversee, link up and give a thrust to research and development.

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In her budget speech on Monday, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “Many of our cities have various research institutions, universities and colleges supported by the government of India. In nine such cities, we will create formal umbrella structures, so that these institutions can have better synergy, while also retaining their internal autonomy. A Glue Grant will be set aside for this purpose.”

Hyderabad, with 40 such major institutions, was cited as one of the potential cities for this cluster by Sitharaman.

But academicians and researchers here feel that Pune is a strong contender and are hopeful about finding its mention in the top nine list of cities, which is still under consideration.

Pune is home to a host of national research institutions of STEM, Economics, Defence operating under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR). The city also has the state-run Savitribai Phule Pune University, its affiliated colleges and a number of private universities. It is also a strong industry and manufacturing hub, working in the fields of pharmaceutics, automobile and IT-solutions, and therefore, experts say that the city could make an easy entry into the national list of cities in this proposed scheme.

Speaking on this proposal made in Monday’s budget announcement, Prof Jayant Udgaonkar, director of the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER), Pune, said, “Pune has a strong research base and a chain of laboratories working in the fields of science, engineering and defence. There are high chances that Pune will be included in the list of nine cities.”

Despite such robust infrastructure in R&D, academia and industries, their working was often in silos all these years, observed Dr AA Natu, chairperson of the board of governors for IISER-Kolkata.

“There lacked a common platform for experts from these fields to network and interact. The proposed setting up of an umbrella body, if Pune is selected, will offer such a platform and boost R&D,” said Natu.

Pune Knowledge Cluster (PKC), which has been operational for about two years now, is growing into a platform where researchers, academicians and industry can unite. There is also a Bio-Cluster, sponsored by the DBT, taking shape which will bring together biology and bio-technology-based institutions to collaborate. Both these clusters, scientists say, will give Pune an edge over other competing cities.

“The new scheme is like an expansion of the idea with which PKC was constituted. The PKC will definitely be a foundation for the city’s future R&D,” said Prof Ajit Kembhavi, principal investigator at the PKC and former director of the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA).

Over the next five years, the Centre plans to spend Rs 50,000 crore under the National Research Foundation (NRF). “This is a welcome move and it is heartening to see improved funding, for example for the DBT, and overall research and innovation. The NRF allocation is a huge one,” said Prof Sanjeev Galande, dean of Research and Development at IISER, Pune.

Even though NRF proposed to fund universities, higher educational institutions along with R&D institutes, the Centre will have to identify the right people and work more efficiently, especially in disbursement of funds.

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“NRF can focus on funding the bigger projects. But the system must be efficient enough to ensure that funds are disbursed on time,” added Prof Udgaonkar, who appreciated the NRF funding projects from streams beyond STEM.

With high hopes pinned on Pune, scientists believe that the state government will take note of the important contributions made by the city, which will eventually lead to the government fast-tracking recruitments for the numerous vacant teaching and faculty positions in the universities and colleges here.

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