Thousands of Ph.D. scholars from the disabled, Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Classes communities have not received the around ₹31,000 monthly national fellowships funded by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJ&E) since April, according to the scholars and government officials.
According to Ministry officials, the delay in disbursing the fellowships is due to the change in fund flow guidelines by the Finance Ministry in March. On March 9, the Finance Ministry’s Department of Expenditure issued an office memorandum on the “revised procedure for flow of funds under Central Sector Schemes”, which required the appointment of a Central nodal agency to disburse funds. Earlier, the fellowships were disbursed through the University Grants Commission. Government officials said the National Fellowship for Persons with Disabilities (NFPwD), the National Fellowship for OBC and the National Fellowship for SC – all under the Social Justice Ministry – have been held up since April.
Replying to a Right To Information query by an affected scholar, the Department of Empowerment of PwD (DEPwD) said on August 3, “The Department of Expenditure had laid down revised procedure for flow of funds under Central Sector Schemes which mandates, inter alia, designation of a Central Nodal Agency for implementation of the scheme before release of any fund under the scheme. The matter is being taken up with the concerned authorities to resolve the issue at the earliest (sic).”
The DEPwD grants fellowships to a maximum of 200 PwD scholars every year. The schemes for OBC and SC scholars under the MSJ&E’s Department of Social Justice and Empowerment has around 2,300 scholars as of now, Social Justice and Empowerment Secretary R. Subrahmanyam said.
Asked whether there had been a delay in disbursing the fellowships. Mr. Subrahmanyam said: “Yes, there is some delay due to the new Central Nodal Agency system. But we should start payments from this month.” He added that the department was making arrangements to move to a new system.
DEPwD Secretary Anjali Bhawra did not respond to a request for comment on the delay in disbursing fellowships. An official of the Expenditure Department under the Finance Ministry said the Social Justice Ministry had been given an extension to continue with the old rules till September 30. After that, the official said either a Central Nodal Agency should be appointed or the Ministry could disburse the funds directly to the scholars as payments made through DBT mode were exempt from the new guidelines.
Meanwhile, the delay in disbursing fellowships has hit the scholars hard, leading to financial hardship and lack of funds to carry out research work and field trips.
N. Ramesh Kumar, who received the NFPwD in 2020-2021, said the delay had made it difficult for him to continue his Ph.D. and make ends meet for his family, including two children. “I think this government is not concerned about the disabled. They call us divyang, but do not live up to their promises,” he said.
Anuj Goyal, a Ph.D. scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University who also received the NFPwD in 2020-2021, said the process of selection itself had taken a year, with the applications opening in December 2020 and the results being declared in January 2022. He said the 186 scholars selected for NFPwD in the 2020-2021 batch have not received the fellowship amount even once. “For any research, you need sufficient funds. How do we carry out research?” he asked.
Sartaj Ahmed Dar, a Ph.D. scholar from Jammu and Kashmir who also received the NFPwD in 2020-2021, said the field visits and research work for his Ph.D. on medicinal plants of the Pir Panjal range has been affected. “We are supposed to get the fellowship with effect from April 1, 2021 and we have not received any amount so far,” he said.
Scholars of the National Fellowship for OBC (NFOBC) have also faced the same problem. Nayan Dhawal, who was selected for NFOBC in 2020, said the fellowship amount was disbursed regularly till March, after which it stopped.
“I have contacted the UGC and Ministry many times. First, they said they would disburse it in a few days. Then, they started saying there is some technical glitch that had led to the delay,” he said.
He added that his Ph.D. at Jawaharlal Nehru University is being affected due to the delay, as data collection, purchase of books and field work are being affected.