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Small raise for science
- Less for research, more for security

New Delhi, July 10: The 2014-15 Union budget outlays for scientific research reflect marginal jumps over allocations last year with atomic energy, space, biotechnology and earth sciences among agencies earmarked hikes less than even the average inflation rate of 8 per cent.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech today that new and renewable energy “deserves a high priority”, announcing an outlay of Rs 500 crore for ultra-mega solar power plants in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Ladakh.

The science and technology department has received an allocation of Rs 3,544 crore, an 11 per cent increase over last year’s figures, and the highest increase among the departments associated with scientific and medical research. The allocation for biotechnology is Rs 1,517 crore, only Rs 15 crore (0.9 %) higher than last year’s outlay.

The outlay for earth sciences — the agency responsible for atmospheric and ocean research as well as for weather forecasts — is Rs 1,699 crore, a 0.5 per cent increase over last year’s Rs 1,690 crore. India’s department of health research outlay has gone up by only 0.8 per cent.

But senior science policy makers today said the figures were not important.

“Looking at just the numbers would be misleading and wrong,” said K. VijayRaghavan, secretary, department of biotechnology. “I would rather look at this as a very valuable policy shift — the budget stimulates basic and applied science to work together in quality institutions.”

Finance minister Jaitley announced that the government would seek to scale up the development of biotechnology research clusters in Faridabad (Haryana) and Bangalore. He also said two new clusters for agricultural biotechnology would be added in Pune and Calcutta.

“The budget seeks to emulate the model of clusters of biology institutions in these new locations,” VijayRaghavan told The Telegraph. “We have been getting all the right signals — through inter-ministerial cooperation, big missions in sanitation, clean water, health, energy and agriculture will not fall short of funds — we’re positive and rearing to go.”

Earth sciences secretary Shailesh Nayak said the department had anticipated the outlay it has been allocated. “The allocation is nearly the same level as last year — this is fine, our research projects and services will continue as planned,” Nayak told this newspaper.

The budget outlay for the space department is Rs 7238 crore, a 6.5 per cent increase over last year. Atomic energy has been allocated Rs 8,737 crore, a 3 per cent jump.

But the funds proposed for the Union ministry of new and renewable energy sources in the 2014-15 budget documents is Rs 956 crore, lower than the Rs 1,533 crore allocated last year.

A non-governmental group tracking energy and environmental issues said the budget had failed to appreciate that the future of solar energy lay in decentralised off-grid plants — smaller plants that provide clean energy to millions across India’s villages with no power or electricity grids.

“Instead, the 2014 budget falls back on big solar plants, announcing Rs 500 crore for ultra-mega solar plants,” said Sunita Narain, the head of the Centre for Science and Environment.