Visakhapatnam: It is not a paucity of funds, but a shortage of good scientists that is retarding the development of strategic projects in the defence sector, according to DRDO chief M Natarajan. The organisation is establishing a presence at Indian universities, in order to tap talent at an early stage and is seeking students who will commit at least three years for research with defence laboratories.
"There is no dearth of funds but we face an acute paucity of scientists," said Natarajan, who was honoured with the CV Raman Centenary award. Defence projects tend to have long gestation periods that may require up to a minimum of a decade of dedicated research.
As for funds allocation, Rs96,000 crore has been set aside in the year's budget for defence. Of this amount 6.6 per cent has been set aside for DRDO, which works to Rs6336 crore. Of this amount DRDO spends Rs2220 crore, or 35 per cent, on research activities.
The DRDO has a 30,000 strong workforce across its 51 laboratories, comprising 7,000 scientists and 12,000 technical staff.
"The number of scientists is far too meagre to handle complex projects that we undertake. 100-135 scientists per lab is not a big figure," Natarajan said.
The DRDO has been receiving several proposals for setting up centres of excellence but has to put them on hold due to lack of trained manpower. "How can centres of excellence be set up without trained persons to man them," Natarajan asked.
So far, the DRDO has established five Centres of Excellence, including those at Indian Institutes of Technology in Mumbai and Kanpur and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, where about 80 students at each centre work on defence-related basic research.
"This number has to go up to 800 per centre or even 8000," Natarajan said.
Natarajan also said that several parliamentary committees have even suggested increasing the spending on defence research to 10 per cent of the defence budget.
Natarajan said five research boards to assess research proposals for the DRDO have been operational for the last three years but very few match the standards set up by them.
"Though the boards have been operational for the last three years, there has been very little off-take," he said at the 95th Indian Science Congress here last evening.