Research scholars from various institutions and labs across the country who have been protesting for about six months now for a hike in scholarship may soon hear some positive news. “The DST [Department of Science and Technology] co-ordinates fellowship matters for science. They have taken meetings of all science funding agencies and conveyed their recommendation. The finance ministry takes a decision this. As tweeted by the DST, this too has been done. The official order is now awaited,” Prof. K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India said in an email to The Hindu.
“Our research scholars are the foundation of our science and most important. There is no debate or disagreement on this. The discussions led by DST are based on this point,” says Prof. VijayRaghavan.
“As far as DST is concerned everything has been done from our side. We even brought all the stakeholders (funding agencies) on board so the outcome is applicable to all research scholars. From our end, nothing is pending. The Finance Ministry is now looking at it. My hope is it will be officially notified as soon as possible,” says Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST.
Even on December 28, 2018, DST had made it clear that it has done its part and the matter was under consideration by the Finance Ministry. “Positive recommendations of the GoI-constituted Committee headed by incoming Expenditure Secretary are expected shortly,” DST tweeted. Further to that, on January 4 this year, Prof. VijayRaghavan tweeted saying: “A final decision [of the government-constituted Committee headed by the incoming Expenditure Secretary] is expected in a week.”
Among other demands, research scholars want 80% hike in fellowship. Currently, junior research fellows (JRFs) get Rs.25,000 per month while senior research fellows (SRAs) get Rs.28,000 per month. The last revision in fellowship was in October 2014. There are nearly one lakh PhD scholars doing their PhD in India.
Representatives had met Prof. Sharma and Prof. VijayRaghavan in end October and November 2018 respectively. They had also met Minister for Science & Technology Dr. Harsh Vardhan and Minister of Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar in end December. What stands out is the constant update of the developments through tweets by Prof. VijayRaghavan, Prof. Sharma and DST.
“I should say we have done it quite quickly. There has been some delay but not as long as is being made out,” says Prof. Sharma. According to him, a revision in fellowship after four years was due only in October 2018.
Prof. VijayRaghavan had gone on record saying DST had initiated the process of hiking scholarship even before research scholars had started their campaign. “Both four years ago and now, the process of enhancement had been initiated by the DST before the scholars started their campaign,” he tweeted on December 3 last year. “These things require a process which was on track and is on track. Your (legitimate) fretting will not speed or slow this ongoing process, in a situation where all involved want to get it done and where everyone is working hard”
Prof. VijayRaghavan says in the email: “DST will review the [fellowship] situation on a yearly basis. This will allow steady and calibrated changes and any rationalisation as necessary”.
Prof. Sharma refused to divulge the percentage hike that has been proposed. “The Finance Ministry is working on it. The hike will be based on some logic, some formula. I can’t say how much it will be. It is for the Finance Ministry to decide,” he says.
Another major demand of research scholars is timely disbursal of scholarship. There have been several instances when scholarship has not been released for as long as eight to ten months at a stretch. “I had contacted DST and put pressure. So three months of scholarship was released a few days ago. But several others have been suffering without fellowship for a longer period and many have quit due to irregular disbursement of scholarship,” says Nikhil Gupta, national representative of Research Scholars of India, an association leading the petition and a research scholar at the Centre for Biomedical Research, Lucknow.
Prof. Sharma does admit that there have been procedural issues in releasing the fellowship on time but assures that it will be sorted out soon. “We want to strengthen the process for timely release of scholarship,” says Prof. Sharma.
“DST is co-ordinating a mechanism to ensure speedy and regular release of fellowship. Glitches can come from issues at any of the steps in the pathways and a mechanism to monitor and correct is being put in place by DST,” adds Prof. VijayRaghavan.