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Research Funding

India set to boost science budgets

Quantum technology, energy materials, and genomics are priorities

by K. V. Venkatasubramanian
March 13, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 10

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi proposes big funding increases for science programs for 2020–21 in his first budget since winning reelection in a landslide last year. Much of the money will go to quantum technology, energy materials, and genomics.

If implemented as proposed, the budget would launch the National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications (NM-QTA) with an investment of ₹80 billion ($1.07 billion) over 5 years. The program will support workforce and infrastructure development in quantum science fields, as well as interdisciplinary projects across the full range of technology development, including fundamental science and commercialization.

India science spending

Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed funding increases for science agencies for the 2020–21 fiscal year, in addition to a separate allocation of ₹80 billion over 5 years for quantum science.

Source: India Ministry of Finance.
Note: Figures were converted from Indian rupees to US dollars at the March 10, 2020, exchange rate of $1.00 = ₹73.66. a Actual. b Proposed.

A chart detailing India's federal funding for science agencies.

India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), which already runs the country’s Quantum-Enabled ­Science and Technology (QuEST) program, is charged with running the NM-QTA.

The DST itself will get a 15% funding jump, to ₹63.0 billion. The money will help the department support existing and new projects, particularly in the area of energy materials, DST secretary Ashutosh Sharma tells C&EN. The department is also setting up instrumentation and advanced manufacturing facilities called Sophisticated Analytical and Technical Help Institutes, which will be available to academic scientists as well as start-up and established companies. “The aim is to provide professionally managed services under one roof and foster a strong culture of research collaboration between institutions and across disciplines,” Sharma says.

The Department of Biotechnology is slated for a 17% hike, to ₹27.9 billion. A key focus of the department will be implementing the next phase of the Genomics for Public Health in India project, known as IndiGen. The effort aims to sequence the genomes of 20,000 people—10,000 healthy and 10,000 who have various diseases—to develop diagnostic tests and effective therapies.

Mapping India’s genetic landscape is critical for next-generation medicine, agriculture, and biodiversity management, India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, said when announcing the budget proposal. In addition to IndiGen, the budget includes funding for a program to create a database of species prevalent in the Indian subcontinent.

The budget proposal also includes a notable 10% increase for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The Ministry of Earth Sciences is slated for a 14% increase. Agriculture and health research budgets would see 6–8% raises. The budget proposal gives the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy a 48% increase for 2020–21. That agency saw an 8% cut from 2018–19 to 2019–20.

India’s inflation rate from April 2019 through January 2020 was 4.5%, according to the most recent data from the Department of Economic Affairs. The country’s fiscal year begins April 1.

For educational programs, the budget directs India’s top 100 higher education institutions to begin offering degree courses online to provide better access to education for all students in India. Laboratory courses are excluded from the online program. India also plans to ease rules limiting foreign investment in education. “By 2030, India is set to have the largest working-age population in the world,” Sitharaman said. “Not only do they need literacy but they need both job and life skills.”


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