Quantum Leap

No place for scientific breakthroughs in Budget 2016

ISRO, for one, can't get ambitious with projects which have been in the pipeline for years now.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  3-minute read |   08-03-2016
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The annual Budget exercise catches people's attention mainly for direct and indirect tax proposals because they affect common man and decide if prices of commodities and services will go up or down. The other important component of the Budget is allocation of funds for different sectors or ministries.

This year's highlight was, of course, the rural sector. Several other sectors, however, are disappointed at allocations made for them. Scientific departments are among those affected by lower than expected funding.

The Department of Space, for instance, has been allocated about Rs 6,000 crore. For a scientific agency engaged in critical missions and projects, this kind of money is dismal. It only means that the department, which funds the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and about a dozen space laboratories under it, can only carry on with ongoing projects.

Also read: How India's space journey made another landmark flight

It can't get ambitious with projects which have been in the pipeline for years now. A number of technology development projects were initiated under the "manned mission initiatives/Human Space Flight Programme" a few years ago when the department had got Rs 100 crore. Subsequent Budgets had also made some allocations, but this year, no money has been given for this activity.

While it is true that the government is yet to take a political decision about manned space mission as it may cost about Rs 13,000 crore or so, research into technologies needed for such a mission has to be carried out on a continuous basis. ISRO plans to develop a fully autonomous orbital vehicle carrying two or three crew members to about 275km low earth orbit and their safe return. It has been working on critical technologies required for a human spaceflight programme as pre-project activities.

Similarly, the plan to develop a satellite for SAARC countries, announced by the prime minister when he visited ISRO, has drawn a blank in this Budget.

Another critical agency, Department of Atomic Energy, engaged in both research and operation of nuclear power plants across the country, will have to contend with marginal increase in its budget from Rs 11,384 crore to Rs 11,682 crore. The Department of Health Research, which funds medical research and supports dozens of national labs across the country, too gets small increase from Rs 1,012 crore to Rs 1,144 crore.

Also read - How ISRO changed the way the world looks at India

The overall health budget too has seen minuscule increase in the outlay, at a time when India needs a push in the health sector. The increase in budget for the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is just about 4.5 per cent, which is less than the inflation rate.

Only Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) appear to be satisfied with the fund allocation. Overlooking scientific research and mission critical areas like space and atomic energy does not augur well for India.

For many years, we have been talking of increasing spending on research and development (R&D) from below one per cent of GDP to about two per cent of GDP.

At a time when countries like China and South Korea are surging ahead in R&D, underfunding can slow down India.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)


Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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