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The Indian government has announced that it plans to increase spending on research and development by 25 per cent next year.

Although military and space projects remain top priorities, accounting for 47 per cent of the research budget between them, much of the new money will be used to promote basic science. And there will also be a 70 per cent increase in the budget for research into traditional systems of medicine.

The budget, presented to the Indian Parliament in Delhi last week (28 February), allocates Rs 60.4 billion US$1.24 billion) — compared to Rs 48.3 billion last year — for civilian scientific agencies, and a further Rs 36 billion for defence research.

“This is the biggest increase in five years,” said Valangiman Ramamurthi, secretary to the Department of Science and Technology (DST), adding that the extra money would enable his department to spend Rs 1.3 billion in support of basic research next year, compared to Rs 850 million in the current financial year.

There will also be an increase from Rs 350 million to Rs750 million in support for research infrastructure in universities, while 16 basic science institutions run directly by the department will see their budgets rise by 41 per cent to Rs 2.1 billion.

A Rs 1.2 billion increase for the 40-odd laboratories under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) “is something that has never happened before,” says Ragunath Mashelkar, head of CSIR.

Despite the major increases, the total government spending on research and development remains only 0.8 per cent of its gross domestic product, far short of its target of two per cent. Nevertheless the growth is being seen as highly significant.

“Even though the money for basic research, in absolute terms, is not big, the government seems to have finally understood the problem faced by the university system,” says P. Balaram, editor of Current Science, the journal of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

Many scientists feel that strong articles in the journal on the crisis facing university research in India, as well as similar statements by C.N.R. Rao, the president of Third World Academy of Sciences, have helped swing political sentiment in favour of extra funding.

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