NEW DELHI--Indian researchers are feeling buoyed by a new budget unveiled on 27 February that hands science its largest increase of the decade. The 20% hike is seen as a shot in the arm for domestic efforts to overcome foreign sanctions imposed in the wake of last spring's nuclear tests. The boost "reflect[s] India's determination to fight ... the sanctions and denial of technology," says Raghunath A. Mashelkar, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The increases, which go into effect on 1 April, stand in sharp contrast to last year's budget, which favored the atomic, space, and defense R&D sectors but didn't provide enough for other departments to even keep pace with inflation (Science, 5 June 1998, p. 1520 ). Still, not everyone is pleased with the new $2.56 billion budget. M. G. K. Menon, a physicist and former science and technology minister, says that the budget "lacks any bold new initiatives" and that it fails to invest enough in civilian R&D. "The government has its priorities all wrong" by emphasizing strategic research related to national security, he says.
To be sure, defense research still receives the lion's share of the government's science and technology investment, rising by 20% to $696 million. That figure constitutes 6% of the country's overall defense budget, its highest share ever, and reflects the government's attempt to beef up indigenous military technologies. Two related sectors--space and atomic energy--also fare well. The Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai, India's leading laboratory for nuclear weapons research as well as for civilian-related projects, gets a 33% hike, to $134 million. In addition, the Department of Atomic Energy announced a new National Center for Applied Mathematics and Radiophysics at the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in Mumbai, although no details were available before posting today's issue of ScienceNOW.
On the civilian side, the department of science and technology, which funds academic research, is receiving an 18% hike, to $164 million, and the department of biotechnology's budget will rise by 9%, to $30 million. Some of the loudest applause is coming from CSIR, which runs a chain of 40 laboratories catering to the needs of industry. Its 30% boost, to $199 million, is the largest in its 50-year history. "For the first time, our R&D budget is looking healthy," says Mashelkar.