The INAE Research study on “Impact of R&D on Indian Mineral Industry Performance – Identifying New Priorities and Strategic Initiatives”, supported by the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, sought to assess the impact of R&D on the performance of Indian minerals sector and to evolve a concrete R&D strategy based on this appraisal. The study was undertaken by a 3-member team comprising Prof A.K. Ghose as Coordinator and Prof RN Gupta and Prof J. Bhattacharya as members. The study in effect centered on developing a R&D vision for Indian mineral industry which could help strengthen the scientific and technological base of the industry and encourage its competitiveness, based on excellence through innovation.
The minerals sector, despite a hoary and glorious past, contributes to only about 2.5% of the GDP and continues to be identified as a technological laggard. The study called therefore for an in-depth and critical analysis of the R&D initiatives using appropriate metrics for performance evaluation which has highlighted the lacuna in the current industry R&D portfolio, where consultancy is often wrongly construed as R&D and the projects are largely fragmented and small in size to be useful and able to impact on industry’s performance in a significant way. Likewise, there are major gaps in research projects in the areas of green mining and purposeful ICT applications. The mining industry also suffers from a serious skill deficit with acute shortage of R&D manpower. A 2-stage Delphi exercise was undertaken to identify the desired R & D priorities for the industry which were refined and honed in a brain-steering workshop with identified experts from the industry.
Based on this study, the INAE team concluded that for focused effort and maximizing R&D outcomes, there was an imperative need to assemble a critical mass of resources and integrate the research efforts by pulling them together in networks of excellence in “mega” projects which could effectively address the major challenges faced by the industry in improving performance and operational effectiveness, the plethora of environmental concerns and ensuring workforce safety.
The roadmap unveiled primarily addressed the following objectives.
Launching mineral industry technological initiatives by integrating the efforts of different stakeholders on a common research agenda on a PPP model
Creating Centres of Excellence for effective collaboration between research centres, universities and industry
Developing world-class research infrastructure by liberally funding the premier national research institutes with effective coordination in national research programmes
Funding selected academic institutions for basic research
Creating a National Experimental Mine for real-life testing and developing CMPDIL into a full-fledged research arm of the coal industry and supporting academic institutions for development of research manpower through funding of fellowships and research grants.
Based on this study and analysis, the following generic recommendations are made for a coherent and synergistic national R&D programme for Indian minerals sector:
To be able to address effectively the many challenges that face the minerals sector in India, the investment in R&D in terms of funding and facilities need to be significantly enlarged. An annual budget of the order of Rs.6600 millions would be necessary which could be disbursed as under:
Budgetary support to 2 National Laboratories and CMPDI and 5 Cooperative Research Centres – Rs.1500 million
Funding mission-mode projects -Rs.3000 million
Funding of extramural research in Universities – Rs100 million
Demonstration of new technologies in industry – Rs 2000 million/year
Scholarships/Fellowships at Universities for human resource development for R&D- Rs.20 million/year
The funding for R&D could be generated through levy of a small cess of 1 % on the value of mineral production. Capital investment for refurbishing and developing state-of-the-art facilities and creating new Institutes will be of the order of Rs.2500 million.
Industry’s disinclination to R&D needs to be overcome and a consortia approach, analogous to the PPP model of CEMI of Canada, espoused so that industry collaborates in joint research projects with academe.
To help identify the national research needs and develop a purposeful R&D agenda, a national advisory committee requires to be set up separately for coal and non-coal sectors with representation from industry, research institutes, academe and professional societies.
To be abreast of developments in cutting edge technology and research around the world, twinning with research establishments abroad and participation in R&D projects would be desirable and needs to be actively pursued. India should strive to be a partner in the Global Mining Research Alliance (GMRA), created by Australian CSIRO, CANMET Mining and Mineral Science Laboratories in Canada, the NIOSH in the US and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa. The Alliance aims to become “the supplier of choice for mining research solutions and knowledge in the international mining and resources industry” by pooling some of the world’s best research expertise and laboratory facilities.
ICT could play a stellar role in mineral industry’s R&D agenda and should be a major component of every R&D project.
An oversight process should be established to provide periodic independent evaluation of project management, performance schedule, cost controls and risks.
The roadmap is illustrated by concrete project outlines, their objectives, networked organizations and level of funding required. The study has been able to present a comprehensive assessment of the impacts of R&D on Indian mineral industry performance which could help formulate future R & D initiatives of the Industry. Indian minerals sector is entering a period of accelerating technological change and aggressive and purposeful R&D could help in gaining competitive advantage through the leverage of technology for sustainable competitiveness.