The meagre fellowships that India’s science scholars get has been a contentious issue for long. It raised its head again this week when hundreds of research scholars from various government science and medical institutes of New Delhi staged a silent protest in the corridors of power demanding an immediate hike in fellowships to tackle inflation blues. They were assured by the Indian government yesterday that their long-standing demands will be heard in a meeting next week. And some positive action is expected within the next two weeks.
The researchers under the banner of ‘Research Scholars of India’ were protesting in front of the office of secretary of India’s Department of Science and Technology K. VijayRaghavan. These were scholars from many institutes of Delhi — All India Institute of Medical Sciences, National Institute of Immunology, International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Hamdard University, Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi University and National Institute of Plant Genome Research. Their immediate demands: a hike in fellowship to compensate for the current inflation rate, annual increments linked to inflation, revision of fellowships from April 1, 2014 and streamlining of monthly fellowships.
Says ICGEB junior research fellow Krishnan Yadav, “Fellowships or stipends provided by the Indian Government to research scholars have, historically, been abysmally low. The amount disbursed is probably enough for one person in his/her twenties to afford a roof over their heads.”
According to a release by the researchers’ body, the cost of living has skyrocketed with inflation soaring over 144% as compared to 2010 level. A junior research fellow (JRF) gets a stipend of Rs. 16000 per month, increased from Rs. 12000 in 2010 after an indefinite fast by students of Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Senior research fellows (SRFs) get around Rs. 18,000 per month. Research associates (PhD graduates) get a consolidated fellowship of around Rs. 22,000 per month. “Average age of a research associate is 31 years. With this kind of money, we can’t even support our parents and marriage is a distant dream,” Yadav says.
The protestors are demanding that the pay be revised to 35,000 for JRFs and Rs 38,000 for SRFs.
Quoting a CSIR study, the disgruntled researchers say around 44% of fellows who qualify the prestigious CSIR-UGC JRF/NET examination don’t join Indian institutions for a PhD. More than half of them look at a PhD abroad mainly because of the poor pay.
Anjali Khatri of ICGEB put out an update on the protestors’ Facebook page saying the DST had assured them that new fellowship amounts will be proposed considering inflation rates and guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The protestors have demanded that their annual increment be linked to two factors — inflation and pay commision. The pay commision recommendations come into force every year but a Phd student’s tenure is not that long. So the researchers have proposed that 1/10th of the hike of pay commision should be included every year in the felllowships along with an inflation-adjusted hike as done for any other government employee.
There have been similar protests in the science hub of the country Bengaluru and in Chandigrah. Some more protests are planned in Mumbai.
Here’s hoping the demands of this country’s young researchers are heard by her policy makers. It will certainly go a long way in retaining talent and attracting more students to science — issues that have plagued the growth of science in the country for long.