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India creates new research funding agency, but doubts linger

India’s Parliament last week approved a new research funding agency aimed at boosting the nation’s scientific standing. But some analysts are skeptical that the Anusandhan National Research Foundation—which aims to inject some $6 billion into basic and applied research over 5 years—will have a major impact. (Anusandhan is Hindi for “innovation.”)

The new agency realizes a plan released in late June by India’s Union Council of Ministers. The grantmaking foundation “is going to have a long-term effect, long-term outcomes [for] all of us, each citizen of India,” Jitendra Singh, India’s science and technology minister, said when introducing the legislation in the upper house of Parliament last week. “This is possibly history in [the] making.”

Parliament’s lower house approved the bill on 7 August, followed by its upper house on 9 August.

Some researchers, however, say the new agency falls far short of the institution envisioned by a 2019 report produced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council. It called for creating an independent agency, modeled after the U.S. National Science Foundation, that would operate at “an arm’s-length from the government,” says Shailja Vaidya Gupta, a policy specialist and a former senior science adviser to the government. But the structure approved by lawmakers gives the prime minister and other government ministers key leadership roles as well as broad powers to appoint the agency’s oversight board.

Critics fear that will open the door to political interference. And some wonder whether the foundation can realize its funding plan, which calls for industry to contribute some 70% of its budget.

“If the government had been more bold [and] innovative in their approach … the [foundation] would have been a truly groundbreaking initiative,”  Gupta says.

It is not yet clear when the foundation will begin operations.