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[NEW DELHI] A leading lawyer has been appointed as India's new science minister. Kapil Sibal has a law degree from Harvard University, United States, and has been actively involved in work on AIDS policy.

Speaking soon after taking charge of the ministry this week, Sibal stressed the need to increase funding for science, and to give more incentives to make research more useful to society. He also said that he would ease regulations on biotechnology.

Sibal was appointed by the country's new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following the surprise defeat earlier this month of the Bharatiya Janata Party (see India's new challenge on technology policy). Many believe that the election outcome reflected widespread anger that India's urban and rural poor have not benefited from the country's economic and technological growth, especially in information technology.

But Sibal said that the election results did not represent a swing against technology per se. "On the contrary, the verdict of the people was that technology should not bypass the common man, and technology for the sake of technology alone is not good," he said. The new government would continue to vigorously pursue technological development, he added, but it would focus on the concerns of the common person.

Sibal is also likely to boost biotechnology in the country. He underscored its role in agriculture, nutritional security and health care, and said he would ease regulatory mechanisms that can hinder technological development, especially in the field of biotechnology.

He added that he would also focus on intellectual property rights issues and stemming the brain drain from the country.