Now, research fellows attached to any of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) laboratories can directly share their issues or other matters pertaining to their fellowships with the grievance redressal cell.
Established earlier this month, the cell accepts complaints in the form of emails and calls. Not surprisingly, it is already flooded with hundreds of distress messages and emails from students across the country, who are facing issues with their fellowships.
The step comes nearly six months after research fellows nation-wide had demanded a hike in stipends, besides establishing a centralised body or a cell to monitor their matters independently. However, the facility does not apply to scholars attached to major laboratories, institutions, central and state universities as it is solely meant for scholars of CSIR labs.
Promises yet to be fulfilled
While the original idea by the funding agencies was to form a central body to handle all matters of research scholars across institutions, six months on, no such body has taken shape. Besides, all stipends were supposed to be paid from one bank through a centralised system, another promise that remains unfulfilled. With only CSIR setting up a grievance cell, scholars of other institutions still await such facility.
Matters pertaining to delay and non-revision in payment of stipends that came into effect in January, this year, are among the most frequent grievances received by the cell. Accordingly, a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) now earns a stipend of Rs 31,000 while a Senior Research Fellow (SRF) earns Rs 35,000, per month.
The cell also received complaints about performance reviews and evaluation of scholars at their respective laboratories.
The CSIR, which operates 38 national-level laboratories in the country, has one of the largest number of research scholars working at its labs, besides institutions funded by the University Grants Commission (UGC), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and other funding agencies.
“I have written atleast five emails and made several attempts to call the helpline. But so far, there has not been any positive response to my grievance. My calls have gone unanswered,” said a student from a CSIR lab based in Telangana. To upset matters for CSIR fellows, the central funding agency also announced a slash in the Housing and Rental Allowance (HRA) of scholars with effect from the latest revision.
“The HRA now stands at 8 per cent, 16 per cent and 24 per cent depending on the locality or city of laboratory,” stated the notification dated June 17.
Some students even complained that the latest stipend covered Rs 2,500 as the HRA, which is way low as per living standards in Pune.
Until 2018, the HRA paid to students was 30 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent for tier-I, tier-II and tier-III cities, respectively.
The slashing of the HRA has been done as per the revision in the same in the 7th pay commission for government employees, though research stipends have no direct links to the same.
While revised stipends have been streamlined for fellows under UGC and DST, it is not so smooth for scholars working at CSIR labs, which continue to owe students stipend sums up to five to six months. “I last got my stipend in January, which was as per the pay-scale before revision. I have taken up the matter with the cell and hope it gets resolved without any further delay,” said a student from Pune, who is an SRF.
While the cell is taking up the cases on institution-basis, it is extremely “time consuming and cumbersome task”, said scholars, some of whom approached the cell in its initial days.