NEW DELHI—Inspired by this past April’s global march for science, Indian scientists are gearing up for their own march in more than 30 cities on 9 August, organizers announced today. Their main beefs are anemic science funding and growing religious intolerance.
India’s science investments are minuscule compared with those of China and South Korea, says Prabir Purkayastha of the nonprofit Delhi Science Forum. One pillar of Indian R&D that’s suffering, he says, is the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), a nationwide network of 23 research and teaching institutions. “IITs today have second rate infrastructure compared to what they need and barring a few, there are no institutes in India which have the kind of money required for the next generation of science,” Purkayastha says. He and other march organizers are demanding that the Indian government boost R&D spending as a percentage of gross domestic product from roughly 0.85% in 2016 to 3% of GDP.
Government officials say that the march organizers’ complaints are overblown. “Their position is factually incorrect,” says Ashutosh Sharma, secretary of the central government’s Department of Science & Technology here. Science spending is booming, he says. “In the past 3 years, our budget has nearly doubled compared to earlier periods for both basic and applied research,” he says. Purkayastha counters that government departments are diverting funds marked for R&D to nonresearch programs.
Organizers are also calling on Indian officials to steer clear of pseudoscience and instead promote a scientific temper: a spirit of inquiry enshrined in India’s constitution. “Unscientific and superstitious beliefs are being propagated around in a big way, and we see government’s hand in promotion of these ideas which has made scientists extremely unhappy,” says Soumitra Banerjee, an engineering professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research in Kolkata. Banerjee, who is also general secretary of Breakthrough Science Society in Kolkata, a nonprofit that is spearheading the march, hopes next week’s marches are not a one-off event. “This movement is likely to gain more momentum,” he says.