Money talks

Current policies belie avowed focus on Plant Earth

The 94th Indian Science Congress's focal theme stressed protection of the Earth from environmental degradation, natural and human-made disasters and the perils of pollution. But is the Indian science establishment geared to tackle such issues. Is it even interested? A look at how the Union ministry of science and technology disburses money compels an answer in the negative:

l R&D expenditure has remained at around 0.8 per cent of GNP since the 1990s. At present it is 0.84 per cent: far below the target of 2 per cent of GNP

l While earth sciences were thought to be integral to accomplishing the "Planet Earth' objectives, it hardly enjoys proper R&D support. It receives just 7.32 per cent. Most of this is spent on better methods of extraction. Engineering and technology enjoys the highest amount of support of 38.15 percent. Medical and biological sciences follow with 14.09 per cent and 13.04 per cent. Agriculture gets just 8.76 per cent and is much below chemical sciences which gets 11.55 per cent of the money, most of which is spent on developing better extraction methods.

l Basic research, the backbone of scientific practice, is losing importance. Of the national science and technology expenditure, 41.7 per cent is allocated to applied research, 34 per cent to experimental development, 17.8 per cent to basic research.

l In terms of R&D expenditure, the least important priority is environment protection. Defence is allocated the largest share of R&D expenditure at 18 per cent. Development of agriculture, forestry and fishing taken together enjoys only 17.7 per cent. Protection of the environment gets just 3.1 per cent. Space is a priority with 12.1 per cent. Promotion of industrial development was 12.1 per cent. General advancement of knowledge was 11.6 per cent. Development of health services was a meagre 8.6 per cent. Production, conservation and distribution of energy was 6 per cent and transport and communication got just 5.3 per cent.

l With respect to money disbursed to scientific agencies, the Union ministry of non-conventional energy gets a paltry 0.1 per cent. The DRDO gets 30.3 per cent of the R&D pool. The department of space spends 21.3 per cent and the department of atomic energy 12.2 per cent. The ICAR got 13.5 per cent. CSIR 9.4 per cent, department of science and technology 5 per cent. ICMR receives only 1.6 per cent. Department of biotechnology gets 1.6 per cent, the environment ministry only 2.6 per cent.