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India fails to deliver on promises to boost science budget

Posted on behalf of K.S. Jayaraman.

For the second year in a row, scientists in India feel let down by a government that promises large funding boosts for research — but isn’t delivering the goods in its budget.

In January, prime minister Manmohan Singh said the country should aim to double its research expenditure by 2017, to reach 2% of its gross domestic product. Under a new policy on science, technology and innovation, India was supposed to be increasing its number of scientists by 66% by 2017, and enhance private-sector participation in research; the spending targets were also proposed in a five-year plan released in December 2012.

But the government’s proposals in India’s 2013–14 budget, released last week, indicate that it is actually trying to cut research spending. Nine research departments* share some US$6.9 billion, a mere 4% more than budgeted for 2012–13, and below the rate of inflation. (The exact size of India’s government research spend depends on which ministries are included in the calculation.)

In fact, the previous year’s budget for those departments was subsequently revised downwards by some 30%, so that some reports (such as that of SciDev.Net) say the new budget — compared to last year’s revised figures — represent a substantial boost. Other reports, such as Science Insider‘s, call the budget lacklustre.

Last year’s budget — even before the revisions — was itself disappointing, as the country is reining in spending across the board.

“The resources allocated to science and technology are a matter of concern,” says Ajay Sood, a physicist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and a former president of the Indian Academy of Science. “This resource crunch has come at a time when the science scene in India was beginning to look good.”

C.N.R. Rao, who heads the prime minister’s science advisory council, says that he is glad that science at least escaped big cuts. “I am told that the promised big spending will start from 2014,” he said. “I hope so. But next year is the election year and I have no idea what will happen [to the promises made by this government].”

*Budget documents used from departments of atomic energy, health research, agricultural research, Earth sciences, space, defence research and the Ministry of Science and Technology’s departments of biotechnology, science and industrial research and science and technology.


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