Research scholars’ community had been peacefully protesting across the country for months to demand a hike in fellowship that corresponds to increase in registration fees, living cost, health expenditures and inflation. They were trying to make the government understand that “Science is driven by passion, Everything else requires money”. Their argument was clear, the money that they were demanding is actually the government’s investment in India’s future. But how did the government responded to their legitimate demand of inflation-factored hike in fellowship that was last revised in 2014, regular disbursals and periodic revision and increment? By arresting 2000 PhD students who were protesting outside MHRD offices. By announcing a 24 percent hike in fellowship amounts for PhD scholars when the rise in tuition fees during 2014-19 period is 276 percent as reported by The Telegraph.
According to the government notification dated 30th January 2019, the fellowship of the Junior Research Fellows (JRF) has been increased from Rs.25,000/- to Rs.31,000/- per month and for Senior Research Fellows (SRF) the increase is from Rs.28,000/- to Rs.35,000/- per month. IIT Delhi students have gone on records to term this hike, advertised as “Narendra Modi government’s care for researchers” by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, as of “minimal amount”, “unacceptable” and a “betrayal” to the future generation. Reports from Bhubaneswar were more aggressive where students in their memorandum to MHRD have threatened that they would intensify their agitation if the demands are not met.
One of the major resentment in research scholars community was the irregularity in disbursals of fellowships. But scholars pockets are reportedly still empty after 42 days if claims from scholars in the Facebook group “Hike in Fellowship 2018”, whose current member tally stands at 41000, are to be believed. The apathy towards this stressed and “cashless” research community due to non-availability of funds by the election-bound Modi government is clearly because dispersed nature of PhD students do not make them a substantial vote-bank. Had that would be the case, we have seen how fast-paced this government can act whether to release funds, pass ordinances or call special parliamentary sessions.
Even if we leave aside the hiked fellowship, many scholars (even in premier institutions like TISS, JNU, etc) have been complaining that they have not yet received their fellowships from more than six months. This is despite an “apparent” release of special grant of Rs 250 crore to UGC and CSIR by Union Minister Prakash Javedekar’s ministry to clear the backlog in December 2018.
There are some 161,412 students enrolled in PhD programmes in 2018, according to All India Survey on Higher Education 2017-18 by MHRD. This figure, which makes India fourth largest in the world as per OECD, notably represent less than 0.5 percent of the total student enrollment in higher education in the country. A very sorry figure for a country aspiring to be the next global power. If government continues to treat its current researchers abysmally like this, most will choose greener pastures abroad and will also discourage the upcoming students to do research in India. Modi government should understand that mere FDI in sectors like Defence, Agri-tech, Biotechnology etc would not make us leaders in these sectors, we need highly skilled and motivated researchers to realise that dream.
Quality research needs quality support. Surely, blatantly refusing their demands for a further increase in fellowship especially given their initial demand of 80 percent hike was not met does not count as support. Modi government need to understand that a fund crunched CSIR and underpaid research scholars will not be able to do world-class research comparable to American or European countries. 21st century is the age of technology; only a slogan of “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan” would not place India on the road of innovation, proper funding would.
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