[NEW DELHI] India has hiked funds for its ministry of science and technology by 20 per cent in its 2013-14 annual budget, with major initiatives in the agriculture sector and support for grassroots innovations.
India’s finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram allocated US$ 1.15 billion (62.7 billion rupees) for the ministry of science and technology in a 22 per cent hike. The department of atomic energy gets US$ 1.08 billion, and the space department that is gearing for India's first Mars mission in November gets US$ 1.03 billion in the budget unveiled 28 February.
Delivering the budget speech in Parliament, Chidambaram described the allocations as "substantial enhancements" being granted despite economic constraints.
CNR Rao, head of the scientific advisory council (SAC) to the Prime Minister of India, told SciDev.Net that the 20 percent hike ifor the science ministry s "satisfactory”, belying Indian scientists' fear of harsh cuts in view of the economic constraints.
The overall budget for key science-related sectors, including agriculture research, atomic energy, defence, earth sciences, health research, information technology, renewable energies and space, is pegged at US$ 7.36 billion – up by 32 per cent over last year.
- Hike in budgetary allocations for space, nuclear power
- Backing for grassroots innovations
- Emphasis on crop diversification and farming technology
Chidambaram reminded that "while we extol the virtues of science and technology, I think we do not pay enough attention to science and technology for the common man."
Towards this, he announced a US$ 36.62 million fund to back 200 “amazing innovations” and make them available to the people.
Raghunath Mashelkar, member of National Innovation Council and former director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), observed that "India is full of ideas. But execution of those ideas and bringing them into the market is a different issue."
Successful commercialisation requires moving from proof of concept, be it from a sophisticated laboratory or individual entreprenur, to prototype design, testing, user feedback, a good business model and successful commercialisation. "Funding is critical in the initial stages and has been missing", he said.
Other kinds of innovations that stand to benefit could cover veterinary sciences, agriculture and agricultural engineering, and traditional medicine, Vipin Kumar, chief innovation officer at India’s National Innovation Foundation (NIF), Ahmedabad, said.
"Value addition and product development are big challenges that require major investments before innovations can be made widely available," Kumar explained.
Chidambaram pledged continued support for bringing the ‘green revolution’ to eastern India, but also stressed the need for crop diversification to avoid problems such as stagnating yield and over-exploitation of water, associated with India’s original green revolution of the 1960s.
Other Incentives for agriculture include a pilot programme to introduce new crop varieties that provide dietary micro-nutrients such as iron-rich millet, protein-rich maize and zinc-rich wheat in districts worst affected by malnutrition, and the launch of a national livestock mission.