Bucking Downturn, India Hands Science a Hefty Increase

NEW DELHI—Joining a global trend, India is giving science a boost in the face of the worldwide economic downturn. On 6 July, the newly elected government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presented its first budget, which grants science agencies a roughly 12% increase over last year. The overall R&D budget is expected to be around $2.5 billion; the exact figure has not yet been tabulated.

A big winner is India's space program. The human space flight program will get $58 million in 2009, an 84% increase over last year, even as a proposal to launch two astronauts into a 400 kilometer low Earth orbit after 2017 awaits formal government approval. "I am happy with this continued support," says G. Madhavan Nair, chair of the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore.

Other highlights include higher education, which will receive a 26% increase in part to pay for the establishment of new elite Indian Institutes of Technology. Agencies that maintain databases of animal and plant diversity will get a one-time, $40 million grant for upgrading laboratories. Biomedical research and agricultural research did not find favor with the new government: Funding for these areas will remain at 2008 levels.

Indian scientists applaud the budget, noting that the global financial crisis could have given the government reason to scale back programs. "No complaints with the reasonable increases," says chemist Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology in New Delhi. The government, he says, has sent a message that "it values knowledge generation and innovation." Parliament is expected to approve the budget in the coming weeks.

Posted in Asia