The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research is staring at a fund crunch this year. A letter from the organisation’s chief, Dr Girish Sahni, to directors of all of the organisation’s 38 labs says that the funding is “tight” and that labs have to look outside of the CSIR to meet their expenses. In any given year, the CSIR— with a ₹4,000 crore annual budget — apportions out about ₹1,200-1,400 crore to its labs for research. This year, according to Dr. Sahni’s letter, only about ₹360 crore would be available.
The crunch was primarily due to the organisation having to meet with increased salary outgo from recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission and a ₹1650 crore-hit towards meeting its pension requirements. These expenses are likely to spill over into the future.“…Thus, the balance available for lab allocations and various new research projects (including 12th Plan leads, Mission projects etc) is only ₹360 crore. Of this, a sum of ₹158 crore has already been allocated. If we were to release further sums under these heads, we will be left with no funds to support new research projects. This is the stark reality,” Dr. Sahni’s letter said. Dr. Sahni, who’s in Africa on business, told the The Hindu that while he had “requested the government for more support”, several scientists had to “change their mindset and produce value from R&D in keeping with the CSIR mandate.”
In 2015, the CSIR decided that as part of a Dehradun Declaration under Science Minister, Mr Harsh Vardhan’s leadership, to generate about 50% of its budget through external sources. Some scientists, who spoke to The Hindu, described the funds crunch as a “panic situation” and a result of the NDA government’s move to scrap the Planning Commission (which allowed the CSIR to access budget research money for a 5-year period) and replace it with a yearly-accounting system. “There is no money for new projects next year effectively,” said one of them, “because the message from above is to make money.” The Hindu has previously reported on several projects not being funded. Dr Sahni’s letter also said the CSIR would immediately move towards a regime of ensuring that 50% of Council’s budget by 2020 would come from external sources and this year at least 25% be met that way. “We are already generating 10%-15%..so I don’t see this as impossible,” Dr. Sahni told The Hindu. Anjan Ray, Director of the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum, said the fund crunch was an opportunity and part of a CSIR effort to reorganize itself. “Earlier, labs were organised around say, ‘chemistry’ and ‘biology’ and now we are thematically organised: Energy, Pharma to strengthen links with industry. This also improves accountability of public funding.”