Science & Technology

Science and technology to get over Rs 16,000 crore in Budget 2023-24, experts say not enough

Slight jump over last year’s allocation of Rs 14,217 crore; does not account for inflation or foster research ecosystem

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Thursday 02 February 2023
Funding is needed for basic sciences or curiosity-driven sciences, pointed out experts. Photo: iStock
Funding is needed for basic sciences or curiosity-driven sciences, pointed out experts. Photo: iStock Funding is needed for basic sciences or curiosity-driven sciences, pointed out experts. Photo: iStock

The Centre has earmarked Rs 16,361 crore for the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, making up only 0.36 per cent of the overall Union Budget 2022-23. The Budget was presented by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to the Parliament February 1, 2023.  

The allocation pales in comparison with Korea’s 4.8 per cent of GDP in science and technology, according to the World Bank. The United States and China spend 3.45 per cent and 2.4 per cent, respectively.

Last year, the allocation was Rs 14,217 crore.

Read more: Budget 2023-24: Whither rural development? Allocation for livelihood and other schemes sees 14% cuts

“There is a slight jump in funding allocation for the Ministry of Science and Technology. Considering the inflation, I don’t think the allocation is enough,” CP Rajendran, adjunct faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, told Down To Earth.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) will receive Rs 7,931.05 crore, Rs 2,683.86 crore and Rs 5,746.51 crore, respectively, of the allocated funds.

Last year, the revised allocations for DST were Rs 4,904.97 crore, Rs 2,192.92 crore for DBT and Rs 5,941.61 crore for DSIR.

The inflation last year was 5.13 per cent.

“This has to be added to last year’s Budget to keep spending at the last year’s level. The funds have to increase more than needed to offset the inflation,” Soumitro Banerjee, professor at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, told DTE

This, he said, has not happened in many sectors, including in DBT and DSIR.

Another issue is that the numbers mentioned in the Budget do not translate into meaningful results on the ground, rued Rajendran.

For example, DST has announced a new scheme called Women in Science and Engineering Post-doctoral fellowship to help close the gender gap in science.

It awards women researchers a fellowship of Rs 55,000 per month and a research grant of Rs 2 lakh annually.

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This lump sum amount of Rs 2 lakh covers research expenses, contingency, travel and the like. “But the grant is restrictive. This demotivates individual women post-doctoral researchers, who are not employed but get research support from the government,” Rajendran said.

Also, the Union Budget 2023-2034 has set aside Rs 2,000 crore for National Research Foundation (NRF), an autonomous body under DST created to fund, coordinate, and promote research in the country. The revised 2022-2023 allocation for NRF was Rs 0.01 crore or Rs 1 lakh only.

The NRF was set up to make science finding less bureaucratic, Rajendran previously told DTE.

The overarching goal of the NRF, according to the budget document, is to seed, grow and promote research and development and foster a culture of innovation throughout Indian universities, colleges, and research institutions.

In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the NRF Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council to formulate an action plan to build a strong research ecosystem in state colleges and universities.

The finance minister announced an outlay of Rs 50,000 crore over five years in Union Budget 2021-22 for it.

The latest allocation is an improvement. But the question of how the body will be governed and how a committee will be constituted remains. “The mechanism has to be carved out,” he added.

There is also another problem. “The government talks about big schemes, but the follow-up is poor,” Rajendran said, highlighting that a similar fate should not befall NRF.

Read more: Budget 2023-24: Agriculture ignored, schemes for ensuring MSP-based procurement nearly ‘closed down’

Other concerns regarding NRF were raised by Banerjee. 

He worries that funding through NRF could be primarily channelled into certain preferred areas, such as lab-grown diamonds mentioned in the speech.

“If there is only one funding agency [NRF] and if their focus becomes technology or spin-off or what can ultimately reach the market, who will fund basic sciences or curiosity-driven sciences,” Banerjee asked.

Translational research has received much attention in the recent past. This was clear in the Prime Minister’s speech at the Indian Science Congress held in Nagpur earlier this year.

Technology, Banerjee added, rests on basic science. “Unless there is funding for basic science, technology cannot flourish,” he explained. 

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