Budget 2023: On Feb 01, 2023 India’s budget for the financial year 2023-2024 was presented by the finance minister. There are lots of positives in this budget and the budget has been welcomed by many as growth oriented. Like the ‘test of the pudding is in eating’, the final outcome of this budget would depend on how successfully the proposed schemes in the budget would get implemented.
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This article takes a broad overview in respect of the ‘demands on grants’ given in the budget for two ministries: one, the Ministry of Science and Technology (S & T) and two, the Department of Space. For the S & T ministry, there are three separate departments. For them individual budget allocations are done. These departments include the department of S & T (DST), department of biotechnology (DBT) and department of scientific and industrial research (DSIR).
Following table offers details of the budget estimate for the Ministry of S & T. The amount mentioned is in crores of rupees
The above data clearly indicates that the government has actually increased allocation, only for the DST, by almost 2000 crores. Except this and looking at the cost of rupee and other such related aspects, it could be safe to say that, there is hardly any change in the budget than the past. Additional allocation to DST is also interesting, the entire amount of Rs 2000 crore is put under one head, called National Research Foundation (NRF).
Government identifies the role of NRF as an idea to speed, grow and promote research and development (R & D) and foster a culture of research and innovation throughout Indian universities, colleges and research institutions. In his address at the 106th Indian Science Congress on Jan 03, 2019 Prime Minister Modi had mentioned about such a need. He had emphasized a need for a strong research ecosystem at colleges and universities level. During the 2021 budget speech, the Finance Minister had mentioned earmarking Rs 50,000 crore over five years for the creation of NRF. Now for the first time the Indian government has specifically allowed Rs 2000 for this purpose. One simple deduction from this year’s budget allocation for S & T is that the government has a desire to do much for S & T and innovation, however is simply not in a position to do enough owing to other pressing commitments.
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The same story repeats in the case of the department of space too. During 2022-2023 this department was allocated Rs 13700 crore and for 2023-2024 the allocation is Rs 12543.91 crore. Almost the same as last year. It needs to be mentioned that the revised estimates for 2022-2023 were Rs 10530.04 crore and possibly looking at the pattern of spending by the department, the present budget allocations have been made. Also, till last year, the space department used to receive a budget of around Rs 400 crore for running the Semi-Conductor Laboratory (SCL). But now the administrative control of SLC has been transferred to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) so no budget provisions have been made for them in the budget for the space department.
Some years back, the budget document for the space department used to provide details giving project by project allocations, like say how much money has been allotted to the Human Space Flight Programme or say for the purposes of semi-cryogenic engine development etc. Unfortunately, this practice has been stopped for the last few years. This makes it difficult to understand the possible trajectory of India’s space programme.
ISRO is expected to undertake important missions like, mission to Sun (Aditya) and the moon mission (Chandrayaan-3) during 2023. Also, some progress is expected in regards to the Gaganyaan project like undertaking the first uncrewed mission. Also, there are plans for undertaking the first runway landing experiment (RLV-LEX) of the reusable launch vehicle. It is expected that the present budget allocations are good enough for pushing this agenda. The budget provisions show an increase of more than Rs 100 cores for INSAT satellite systems. India is still not in a position to launch 5 to 6 ton category of commutations satellites to geostationary orbit on its own and there could be some planned launches with the French company Arianespace in near future. This money is also expected to be used also for service charges on leasing of transponders. The government has given around Rs 70 crore additional money to IN-SPACe, which was established a few years back as a single window nodal agency to push India’s business interests in space. This increased allotment indicates that India is very keen to continue with its ‘commercial space agenda’.
All in all, it could be said that from the Ministry S & T and Space department’s perspective the ‘writing on the wall’ is very clear, the government is just not in a position to afford more. This indicates that the future of R & D and innovation in this country has to emerge as a public-private partnership model. There are some very big business houses in the country; they need to come forward to invest in science research.
The author is Consultant, MP-IDSA, New Delhi.
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