Cleaning up the Ganges is a chief priority.

Cleaning up the Ganges is a chief priority.

ptwo/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

Indian biologists welcome budget hike

NEW DELHI—Clean water, biotechnology, and higher education are among the winners in the Indian budget presented by the new government in the lower house of Parliament here today.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government requested $300 billion for the 2014 to 2015 fiscal year, roughly $20 billion more than last year. That increase is unlikely to keep pace with inflation, which is about 8.3% in 2014. The Ministry of Science and Technology fared better than many agencies: It is in line for a 7.1% increase, to $1.045 billion. “In very difficult times, an extraordinarily favorable budget has been delivered to the Indian scientific community,” says K. VijayRaghavan, secretary of the Department of Biotechnology.

Physical sciences will take a hit. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, a stronghold in physical sciences, must make do with $46 million in 2014 to 2015, about one-third less than last year. And India’s main nuclear weapons laboratory, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, will get $216 million, a $35 million cut.

A top priority for the new government is water resources. It plans to spend $340 million on a massive effort to tackle pollution in the Ganges River, the most sacred river for Hindus. Modi has promised to clean up the Ganges, whose basin is home to some 400 million people, by 2019. India is also embarking on a $168 billion National River Linking Project that envisages constructing more than 15,000 kilometers of canals and tunnels to shunt water to parched areas of the country; the government allocated $16.6 million in the coming year for preparatory work.

The money could go even further if the government were to remove “mindless restrictions and controls that significantly devalue the money allocated,” says evolutionary biologist Raghavendra Gadagkar, president of the Indian National Science Academy. “It is my hope that this government will make radical reforms in the bureaucratic control over research.” After debate in Parliament, the budget is expected to be finalized in the next several weeks.