Two major science programmes fail to receive boost

Finance Minister P Chidambaram has drastically cut down allocation of two major science programmes aimed at improving the economy at the grassroots level with technical aid and develop a new medicine against tuberculosis (TB), which kills millions of Indians every year.

The interim budget, in fact, runs contrary to Chidambaram’s claim of supporting scientific research as no scientific department, except Space, witnessed a sizeable hike in its allocation.

The marginal increase in each department’s allocation takes care of the inflationary rise. But two Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) schemes were denied that lifeline.

The CSIR-800 programme that aims at using S&T interventions to improve the economic condition of common man was denied any government fund in the last two years. Last year, the initial budgetary allocation for CSIR-800 was Rs 50 crore, which was later revised to a mere Rs 1 crore. In the interim budget, the same amount was allocated.
The Department of Science and Technology, however, has a new scheme called “Fund for inclusive innovations for common man” with Rs 30 crore allocation earmarked in the interim budget.

The purpose of the DST scheme was identical with that of CSIR-800, suggesting lack of coordination and internal tussle between two scientific departments, an official told Deccan Herald.

Similarly, the CSIR scheme for open innovation, which seeks to find out a new drug against tuberculosis, was not given any financial support for the last two years, even though it was promised Rs 70 crore in the budgetary estimate last fiscal. The figure was later downgraded to Rs 1 crore in 2013-14 revised estimate and the same amount has been earmarked this time as well.

A new drug against TB will give doctors a shot in the arms in their battle against the disease as the medicines currently used were developed in the 1950s and 1960s, and the microbe has developed resistance against them.

The budget document gives a clear indication of how drastically science research funds were cut in the last fiscal as a cash-strapped government wanted to reduce spending.
Compared to last year’s revised budget, the Department of Space and Atomic Energy received a hike of about Rs 2,000 crore and Rs 1,700 crore respectively, which will help them to expand satellite services and increase nuclear footprint.

Only a token amount of Rs 17 crore and Rs 40 crore was sanctioned respectively for the creation of the national level super-computing facility and national geographic information system, which the Prime Minister mentioned at the Indian Science Congress in Jammu.
Chidambaram promises to create a new research funding organisation, which will require legislative changes. The agency may be introduced at the time of the regular budget.

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