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India bets on renewable energy, biotech
  • India bets on renewable energy, biotech

Copyright: Robert Wallis / Panos

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  • Annual budgetary allocation for India’s science departments barely increased

  • Renewable energy gets a boost, though focused on big solar power projects

  • Extra funds to be channelled into entrepreneurships in science and technology

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[NEW DELHI] Dashing the expectations of India’s scientific community, the newly elected   government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only marginally increased the annual budgetary allocation for science departments. 

The budget for 2014—2015 presented in Parliament this week (10 July) sets aside one billion Indian rupees (US$ 16.6 million) for a national adaptation plan to give thrust to the renewable energy sector.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley also announced US$ 83.07 million for solar power plants in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.

Overall allocation for the renewable energy ministry is at US$ 158.4 million, down from last year’s US$ 254 million.

Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based non-government organisation, said in a statement that the duty exemptions and other provisions on renewable are “welcome, but not enough.”

The budget does not appreciate that the future of solar energy lies in decentralised and off-grid solutions with “smaller power plants that provide clean energy to millions across India’s grid and remote villages that have electricity lines but no power.

“Instead, Budget 2014 falls back on the ‘big’ solar plants — announcing US$ 83 million for ultra mega solar power plants,” Narain said in the statement.

R. K. Pachauri, executive director of The Energy Resources Institute, New Delhi, says that while the focus on renewable is welcome, he “is surprised” that the government has not spelt out any details on energy security, given the current Iraq crisis.

Similarly, Jaitley announced funds to scale up biotech clusters in Faridabad and Bangalore to international levels and turn the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology into a world leader in life sciences. The allocation for biotechnology is US$ 252.05 million, a hike of just US$ 2.49 million or 1.0 per cent over last year.

Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, secretary in India’s department of biotechnology (DBT), tells SciDev.Net that the budget should not be seen in mere mathematical figures. What works for DBT, he says, is a new partnership of institutions that would create synergy to attract high-quality research and funds, freeing up resources for DBT's ambitious plans for biology components in medical and environmental research. 

The department of science and technology (DST), which VijayRaghavan also heads, gets US$ 588.8 million, an 11 per cent rise over last year. The additional funds would be used to foster public-private partnerships and translate high-quality research funded by DST into entrepreneurships, VijayRaghavan says.

The department of earth sciences gets a mere 0.5 per cent hike compared to last year, while health research gets only a 0.9 per cent hike.
Space and atomic energy have fared better with a 6.5 per cent rise for the former at US$ 1,202 million, and a 3.4 per cent rise for the atomic energy department at US$ 87 billion.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.


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