Web Date: February 6, 2018
India’s science and technology funding raised marginally
India’s science and technology programs may see marginally more funding in 2018–19, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed budget. But the government is emphasizing programs focused on internet technology and health care rather than basic science.
In the budget proposal, released on Feb. 1, the Department of Science & Technology (DST), India’s central agency for disbursal of research grants in science, receives a hike of more than 8%. The Department of Biotechnology gets an increase of nearly 7%. The Department of Scientific & Industrial Research sees a nearly 4% raise. And the cash-starved Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), which runs 38 labs, is slated to receive slightly more than a 3% increase.
India’s inflation rate in November was 4.9%, according to the country’s Department of Economic Affairs.
With the budget proposal, India’s government announced the launch of a Mission on Cyber Physical Systems, overseen by DST, to establish centers of excellence to train people in robotics, artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, big data analytics, quantum communication, and internet of things. The mission “will find applications in health care, water management, environmental control, and other areas,” DST Secretary Ashutosh Sharma says.
The government also announced a Prime Minister’s Research Fellows program for 1,000 undergraduate engineering students to pursue doctorates in premier institutes like the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institute of Science. The aim of the program is to retain the students in academia.
Reacting to the budget proposal, “the scientific community of India feels let down as none of the real necessities has been addressed,” says Soumitro Banerjee, general secretary of the nonprofit Breakthrough Science Society. “The director general of CSIR had declared a financial emergency last year because it had no money to fund research. The DST was unable to support research projects that were approved by expert committees. This crisis situation cannot be overcome with the level of funding provided.”
Prof. Krishna Ganesh, founding Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research, Tirupati, and an editor of ACS Omega, agrees that the scientific community is discouraged and disillusioned by the proposed budget. “It is not just status quo but even falls short of keeping us where we were last year,” he says. ACS Omega and C&EN are both published by the American Chemical Society.
Ganesh notes that scientific agencies have not been able to release funds for almost one year for already-approved projects due to lack of funds. “Scientists’ frustrations and woes will continue this year,” Ganesh says. “Alarmingly, the capital allocations are so low that we cannot even hope to replace the outdated equipment, let alone upgrade with new ones.”
The big highlight of the budget, in addition to the cyber mission, was a health insurance scheme that aims to cover four out of 10 Indians. It proposes to offer health insurance up to $7,800 per family per year, covering over 100 million vulnerable families and benefiting about half a billion people.
Earlier in the week, the government’s economic survey for 2017–18 said India’s spending on R&D has been stagnant at 0.6–0.7% of GDP in the last two decades. The survey calls for doubling national expenditures in R&D. This was the first time the chapter “Transforming Science & Technology in India” was included in the survey.
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