A pan-India body of research scholars has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, claiming that they have not received their fellowship stipend for over six months. Demanding regularisation of disbursal of the amount, the researchers said that the ongoing national lockdown has added to their woes as they are not able to collect the required documents for the claim.
“Considering the unprecedented situation, it is difficult for any research scholar to coordinate with relevant offices and also for the project staff or R&D staff of the institutes to process the paperwork required for disbursal of the fellowships. Therefore, as a one-time grant, we request you to kindly release all the JRF/SRF/RA/postdoctoral scholars’ fellowships, irrespective of (the) funding agency,” read the letter by Research Scholars of India – a national level association of JRF, SRF, PhD scholars.
Talking to indianexpress.com, Nikhil Gupta, CSIR-SRF, Centre of Bio-Medical Research Lucknow, said, “I am left with just Rs 200 in my account and do not know when will I get my stipend money. We researchers have the capabilities to support the nation at this unprecedented time but how can we achieve that if we are unable to feed ourselves and our families.”
While most of the scholars complained that they have not received their stipend since the last six months, for some it’s been over a year. Pallabi Bora, a researcher at Gauhati University said, “I have not got my fellowship since July 2019. I have submitted all my bills on the CSIR website as well as to my college administration. I tried connecting with the CSIR grievance portal but have not got any response. I am forced to take tuitions to make ends meet.”
The issue of irregular stipend payment had triggered protests last year as well when research scholars from across India had gathered outside the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). They were promised an increased stipend money and regular disbursal.
However, a study conducted by Vickey Nandal, a researcher at IIT-Delhi showed that only 39.8 per cent have received an increased stipend. As per the survey, 88.5 per cent of the fellows claimed that they do not get their payments on time. This includes fellows from IITs, IISER, and central universities including Delhi University.
The situation is worse for students who are researching in theoretical and non-engineering areas. However, those who are pursuing research in the engineering domain get reimbursement timely, said Nandal.
“One of the key reasons behind this could be that the engineering related research are often granted to institutes who further grant it to individuals, while the CSIR research fellows have to fill forms and get the funding directly without any involvement of the institute (barring for the official signatures required on the forms),” he added.
CSIR had set up a helpline to reach-out to research fellows. It also installed a tracking software to identify who and since when among the scholars are yet to receive their fellowship.
A Chakraborty, head CSIR, admitted that there is an irregularity in stipend but said that the central body is taking steps to fill the gap. He informed that there are about 8,500 research scholars across 703 institutions and one of the criteria for disbursal of the stipend is attendance.
“All researchers are paid their stipend on receipt of their claim bills (including attendance certification) from host institutes in the following month. About 90 per cent of the fellows have been paid their fellowship already up-to January 2020. Yes, there is a delay in payment of fellowship for the month of February and March 2020 due to the lockdown process at host institutes and also at CSIR. In CSIR, we are concerned about the situation and are taking actions to regularise timely payment of fellowship in due course,” he said.