Will Budget bring long awaited cheer to scientific community in India?

Krishna Uppuluri/ Zee Research Group/ Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks last week after the successful launch of five foreign satellites at Sriharikota have raised expectations in the scientific community in India about an upward revision in the science and technology budget allocation next week.

The hint has come with Modi exclaiming that technology is central to development. “It touches one and all, and is an important instrument of our national progress. Such scientific technology is fundamentally connected with the common man. As a change agent, it can empower and connect, to transform his life,” Modi had said post the launch.

The expenditure on research and development (R&D) in India remains at about 0.9 percent of GDP — compared with 1.12 percent in Russia, 1.25 percent in Brazil and 1.84 percent in China. Japan spends about 3.67 percent of its GDP on R&D. USA spends more than 400 billion dollars on R&D (2.77 percent of the GDP), while India spends about 36 billion dollars.

Earlier in the year Scientist Professor CNR Rao had said that “inadequate” funding of science in the country was an “idiotic” situation. He was conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2013. The science sector gets only 20 to 30 per cent of the amount asked from government for its research work, he said.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his inaugural address at the 101st Indian Science Congress in 2014, reiterated that the country should increase its annual expenditure on science and technology to keep pace with international tech-savvy peers. He had made such a statement even in 2012.

In 2012, Manmohan Singh had raised expectations when he said that India needed to double the share of its gross domestic product spent on research to 2 percent, over the next 5 years. But the UPA government’s last budget had announced only about a 5 percent increase in operating budgets of science, which was much lesser than the expectation of 8-10 percent.

The total expenditure of the union budget spent in the science and technology field is divided in the Space, Scientific and Industrial Research, Science and Technology and Atomic Energy ministries and departments.

“Support is needed in terms of providing funds, preferably through joint funding with private sector to convert our patents into products. We have to encourage our scientists to become entrepreneurs,” said a senior scientist working with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai.

“A lot of time we as scientists have to compromise on experiments and discourage youngsters because there is not enough funding available with the department. There is a long list of path-breaking, thought provoking work done by Indian scientists and engineers and encouraging them with additional funding will help them,” the scientist added.

The 2014 Election manifesto of BJP too highlighted the need for giving a fillip to science and technology in the country. “BJP recognizes the central role of science and technology in raising the quality of life of people of the country, particularly of disadvantaged sections of society in creating wealth for all, in making India globally competitive, in utilizing natural resources in a sustainable manner, in protecting the environment and ensuring national security.”

In January, Modi had said at an event, “We have to embrace science and technology.” He had also inaugurated the world’s first forensic science university in Gujarat in March. “I was very pleased to meet our young scientists here. I admire their work and their achievements,” Modi said at Sriharikota.

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