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[NEW DELHI] India has increased its science spending by 21 per cent in its 2007–08 annual budget.

Presenting the budget in parliament today (28 February), Indian finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram earmarked around US$5 billion for projects in various science fields, focusing on three key social sectors: agriculture, health and primary education. 

He announced a series of concessions on excise duty — tax on specific goods and commodities produced or sold within the country — for biodiesel and water purification devices. There will also be tax incentives for projects in biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology, seed research and development, and research into new chemical entities.

Chidambaram allocated around US$22 million for the creation of centres of excellence in two leading Indian agricultural universities — Govind Ballab Pant University of Agriculture and Technology at Pantnagar in north India and Tamil Nadu Agriculture University at Coimbatore in south India.

Research in atomic energy, space and defence continue to corner large chunks of the funds with the three disciplines receiving 40 per cent of the science allocation.

However, overall funding for medical research was reduced, although HIV and polio control programmes received increased outlays.

Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, said it was a "substantial" increase. He said some of the funds would be channelled towards the department's long-term projects to attract young people to science and rejuvenate the research system.

The increase comes despite the revelation that India is not using its entire science allocation. Last month (8 January), President APJ Abdul Kalam told the Indian science congress that more than 20 per cent of the science funds from the 2005–06 budget were still unspent (see Indian ministries 'not spending their science funds').

Chidambaram also announced that the government would set up an expert committee to study the impact of climate change on the country, though details were not yet available.

Chidambaram said India was among the countries more vulnerable to climate change, although it was not a significant contributor to greenhouse gases.