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[NEW DELHI]  While scientific research received a boost in India’s annual budget proposals for fiscal 2015-2016, announced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on 28 February, the outlay for environment was stingy.

Overall, the allocation for the science, technology and environment sectors, has increased modestly from 187.92 billion Indian rupees (US$ 3.04 billion) to 190.23 billion Indian rupees (US$ 3.07 billion). But, the science and technology ministry, taken alone, received an eight per cent boost.

Within the ministry, the department of science and technology gets US$ 619.67 million, scientific and industrial research US$ 651.34 million and the department of biotechnology US$ 262.57 million.

Agricultural research and education benefited from a modest three per cent hike from last year’s US$ 992.77 million to US$ 1.02 billion. Allotment for the department of space increased modestly from US$ 1.17 billion to US$ 1.19 billion, while that for atomic energy increased from US$ 1.41 billion to US$ 1.49 billion in a five per cent hike. 

“On the bright side, the increase in overall allocation for science and technology is a welcome step, especially with a substantial increase in the research and development head,” Amitabha Bandyopadhyay, associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, tells SciDev.Net.
However, Bandhyopadhyay believes an increase in students’ fellowships announced by the government in 2014 will eat into funds for projects.

“The increased allocation may not be sufficient to support an average (per grant) increase for equipment and consumables.”
India, observes Bandyopadhyay, lags far behind China, the EU and the US when it comes to funding science and technology as a percentage of GDP.

The ministry of environment, forests and climate change received US$ 25.85 million for climate change and adaptation funds, up from last year’s budget allocation of US$ 16.16 million. Besides, the ministry of earth sciences received an extra US$ 25.85 million for atmosphere & climate research – modelling observing systems & services, a new programme.

A cess on coal mining has been doubled to US$ 3.25 for every metric tonne extracted from the existing US$ 1.62 per metric tonne, with the proceeds expected to go into the National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) that promotes clean energy initiatives.

Chandra Bhushan, deputy director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment, a major New Delhi-based non-profit, tells SciDev.Net that while the cess is fine, “there is no roadmap yet to utilise the NCEF.”

On the darker side, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change was hit by an overall 25 per cent decrease from US$ 364.53 million last year to US$ 271.62 million this year, while the allocation for the ministry of earth sciences decreased from US$ 274.53 million last fiscal to US$ 261.60 million this fiscal.

“Basic steps like a carbon tax on diesel and petrol to promote clean fuels could have helped,” says Chandra Bhushan.

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

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