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[NEW DELHI] Oceanographic and agricultural research, together with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, received a major boost in India this week with the announcement of the new budget, which has increased the funding for scientific departments by 24 per cent from last year's allocation.

Government departments engaged in scientific research will receive 163.6 billion rupees (US$3.8 billion) in 2005-06, according to the budget announced by India's finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram on Monday (February 28).

To help India set up an early warning system for tsunamis and storm surges in the wake of the 26 December 2004 tsunami, the Department of Ocean Development will get a 64 per cent increase in funds in 2005-06 (see India goes solo with tsunami-warning centre).

The department will receive US$87.7 million, including US$4.6 million to set up the warning system and US$5.8 million for data-collecting buoys to monitor oceans.

In his budget speech, Chidambaram said the Indian government would provide a stable policy environment and the necessary incentives to help the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors become world leaders.

He allocated an additional US$34.9 million to a research and development fund for the pharmaceutical sector and said the government would increase the fund in phases to help develop new drugs.

India has the potential to become an attractive destination for outsourcing drug discovery and clinical research, and for international collaborations in drug development and manufacturing, said Chidambaram.

He added that the country could also emerge as a global leader in supplying novel agricultural and healthcare technologies and products.

The budget also increases funding for the Department of Biotechnology — up by 27 per cent to US$106 million.

Two additional science-related initiatives announced by Chidambaram are in keeping with the budget's overall focus on improving rural infrastructure and economies, and alleviating poverty.

The first is a new US$11.6 million National Fund for Strategic Agricultural Research, aimed at reviving and diversifying agricultural research, and strengthening and modernising Indian agricultural universities and research institutions.

The second initiative is the allocation of US$23.3 million to support an alliance of 80 organisations that pledged last year to set up a Rural Knowledge Centre, using modern information and communication technologies, in each of India's 600,000 villages by 2007 (see India sets up alliance on ICTs for the poor).

The budget also allocated an additional US$23.3 million to the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore as a first step in Indian plans to develop world-class universities.