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R&D can Breathe a New Life into the Chemical Industry
Mankind has benefited tremendously from the chemicals and allied industries but negative perception about chemicals has continued to prevail. Dr G D Yadav, Director Institute of Chemical Technology says, “People forget the benefits these chemicals offer to us in our day to day life and there is some sort of chemophobia that exists in the peoples’ minds.” Chemicals are used to produce materials like paints, plastics, cosmetics, clothes and medicines etc, which are a part of our everyday life. Though the hazardous nature of chemicals has always been a point of discussion but these are a critical component to manufacture fertilisers and crop protection chemicals like insecticides, pesticides, weedicides and biocides etc, which are vital for the agriculture. He points out that even the microbes utilised for research in the field of biotechnology derive their nutrition from chemicals only. He points out towards number of vehicles that have increased significantly over the past few years which has consecutively resulted in increase in demand of fuel that has led to increase in green house gas emissions. Regulatory norms are getting stricter than ever before and there is pressure on automobile manufacturers to produce fuel-efficient vehicles. Many manufacturers have increased the use of polymer content in the machines, which help reduce their weight and hence fuel consumption thus mitigating the carbon footprint.

If one thinks chemicals are not required in the world, he must be living in a fool’s paradise, Yadav quips. He says that use of chemicals will definitely increase in the future due to urbanisation of Indian economy. To meet the growing demand manufacturers will have to produce more at competitive prices in accordance with the strict regulations. Chemical industry is highly science based industry and global in nature and boundaries cannot restrict its impact. Negative impact of chemicals can not be overlooked by the industry. Even though regulatory norms have become stricter, to tackle this problem, however compliance is still an issue. “We need to curb such malpractices if we truly want the industry to progress,” he says. He emphasises on handling of chemicals in responsible manner and compliance with regulatory norms and opines that industry must set up standards by developing environment friendly processes and raise the bar of regulatory norms.

He says, “Science has advanced to an extent that the properties and structural relation of chemicals can be understood and their impact can be analysed.” However there needs to be greater thrust on basic research to develop new processes and alternative ways for chemical manufacturing. It will be very difficult for chemical industry to grow in a country like ours, which supports the population of more than 1.2 billion, unless we increase R&D activities. Industrial scenario was very different twenty years back as compared to what they are now. Industry could survive because of strict control regime though import substitution was done in the past in order to cater to the demand but now we need to export as well which requires adherence to strict regulatory norms and produce world class products.

Many large scale manufacturers neglected environment and went on to set up series of factories in the past, however with increasing awareness and rising energy costs they too are now bound to look into various issues to curb overall operations cost to maintain profit margins. The interest is gradually increasing amongst the industry to invest in R&D to sustain themselves in globally competitive markets. Research in the field of processes can result in significant improvement in bottom as well as top line of manufacturers. Yadav feels that the private companies must earmark some funds for research that will ultimately help the companies derive the benefits in the long run. Chemical industry is expected to face the same competition in the next few years like pharmaceutical industry where private firms have pumped money to sustain themselves in the fierce competition.

Growth of R&D has not kept pace with that of Indian chemical industry. There are many issues lest addressed will hamper the growth of Indian chemical industry. Though many colleges have mushroomed all over the country which are churning out number of engineers, so far serious study has not been undertaken to analyse the quality and the faculty of institutes which is very critical to augment basic research in India. Project funding is another issue because of risk involved. Although financial institutions have set up venture capital funds but these too are apprehensive to take the risks. Unlike western countries less than 1 percent of revenue is invested in research in our country, he informs. Private players play a major role in R&D in the west which is again in contrast with the trend followed in India.

Most of the projects in our coun-try are funded by the government, Yadav informs. In order to give boost to R&D activities, current regime is offering tax relaxation of up to 200 percent to the industry if they outsource projects to the academic institutions like ICT, IIT, CSIR, etc, and industry has benefited a lot from the research studies provided by the institutes. Taking China as an example, Yadav appreciates various measures taken by the country’s government to boost the basic research in the country. Industry is encouraged to outsource research to institutes and involve academia at preliminary stages to prepare for the future challenges. Government has enabled the institutes by setting up state-of-the-art facilities to give boost to R&D in the country. Additionally, the project funding is not a major issue there as a result of which chemical industry in the country is progressing very well.

Until now, research was not a priority for most of the Indian companies as a result of which there was not mush emphasis on setting up infrastructure for the same. In the past, many Indian scientists moved to western countries to pursue their careers in this field and performed exceedingly well.

Market shift from west to the east and growing competition has resulted in an increase in manufacturing activity in the country and there has been significant thrust on the related research efforts as well. With adequate support from government and private sector, research can take off very well in the country which can breathe new life into Indian chemical industry. However this would require effort from government and equal amount of effort from the industry as well. The time is right for the government to look into taking necessary steps to step up R&D efforts in the country and also the private sector should give impetus to these activities and earmarks some funds to make this an ongoing process.

Yadav states that good research requires strong academic support, which is again a challenge since there are not many institutes, which have adequate infrastructure facilities and have well equipped labs. Moreover not many qualified professionals opt for careers in the field of education due to low salaries and instead choose to join industry over academia. This is a critical issue that must be addressed to avoid any future issues, which might emerge because of lack of skilled human resources.

Education has evolved as an industry, which contradicts the trend of educating masses. Number of engineering colleges have mushroomed in every nook and corner of the country however, no serious study has been undertaken so far to explore the fact that despite so many engineers being churned out why India is falling behind in the field of manufacturing.

He is optimistic that the Indian companies will do much better and strongly believes that in the next ten years, India will be number 2 nation in the world, if not number one!!