India pours funds into climate, space research

Large proportions of money will be spent on better weather forecasting Copyright: Flickr/anaxila

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[NEW DELHI] India’s efforts to improve its climate change research and upgrade its weather data observatories will receive a boost in the new budget — which has also hiked up funds for planning its manned moon mission.

The overall science allocation has risen by more than a fifth in the country’s 2008–09 budget announced by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee this week (6 July).

Funds for the Ministry of Earth Sciences, which oversees the country’s climate change and ocean and weather research, have almost doubled to more than 12 billion Indian rupees (US$249 million). But this is dwarfed by the Department of Space’s total funds of US$1 billion.

Shailesh Nayak, secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, told SciDev.Net his ministry’s focus will be on crucial work to upgrade the network of observatories that gather data on rain, atmospheric pressure and wind, for example. Such information supplements Indian satellite data to more accurately model and forecast the weather, says Nayak.

Three Indian satellites in the pipeline are also being designed to provide an array of weather and climate-related data.

Nayak says the ministry also plans to take up research on cloud physics — the physical processes that lead to the formation, growth and precipitation of clouds — to understand the impact of cloud variability on global warming as well as the Indian monsoon.

The trends in India’s overall science spending have remained largely unchanged in recent years, with overall increases of about 20 per cent and the strategic departments of atomic energy, space and defence research cornering almost half the total research outlay (see India increases science spending by 21 per cent).

Following this trend, the overall science and technology sector, including agriculture, health, renewable energy, space, atomic energy, defence, and environment and forests has seen a rise of 22 per cent to US$6.4 billion this year.

Funds for human space flight initiatives from India’s Department of Space have been hiked almost five-fold, from US$8.6 million last year to US$47.4 million.

S. Sateesh, spokesperson for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) — part of the Department of Space — told SciDev.Net that the government is yet to formally approve the US$2.5 billion sought for the manned moon mission. Meanwhile, the 2009–10 allocation will be spent on starting research towards this goal.

But several development-impacting research sectors are lagging in funding. The departments for crop research and health research have seen meagre increases of about five per cent.