May 5, 2021 10:48:54 pm
Hundreds of final-year research scholars attached to a number of premier institutions are planning to seek a year-long extension in their fellowship period from funding agencies due to delays amid the Covid-19 pandemic. During the nation-wide lockdown and restrictions last year, all research institutions were shut between March and September.
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), University Grants Commission (UGC), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Ministry of Education (MoE) are some of the major funding agencies for doctoral and postdoctoral studies in the country. A junior research fellow (JRF) and senior research fellow (SRF) receive a monthly stipend of Rs 31,000 and Rs 35,000, respectively, for a stipulated period of five years, extendable on special purposes.
Late last year, some of these funding agencies had granted academic extensions for a maximum period of six months to select students, but this period has either expired or is about to expire soon. However, no official word on fellowship extension has been received from any of the agencies yet. Only an extension in fellowship will entitle students to continue receiving their stipends.
While most of the funding agencies pay stipends via direct bank transfers to beneficiary students, some agencies like MoE route it via the host institute to which the researcher is formally attached — DST, DBT, TIFR-run institutions, autonomous institutes, central or state-run universities.
“I am just two months away from completing the stipulated five-year fellowship. A lot of my laboratory-related works are still pending. Last year, the institutions were not fully operational due to the pandemic and I need more time. I hope final-year students get some respite and extension in the fellowship period as our research work has been affected,” said a student who is a CSIR Fellow in an institute in Pune.
A few student groups are presently in talks about taking up the issue of fellowship extension officially with funding agencies. Meanwhile, disbursement of fellowship stipends during the last one year has been erratic and the already stressed student community is at their wits’ end while trying to pursue the matter with their respective agencies. This is also because the pandemic has disrupted the administrative and bank processing procedures required to release these stipends, said an official from a funding agency.
A first-year JRF student with an agriculture-based research institute said his CSIR stipend, collectively amounting to over Rs 2.50 lakh, has been pending for nine months.
“Since the first month of joining as a JRF in July last year, I have not received even a single month’s stipend. All required bills and documents were submitted for the second time in March this year, but there has been no development yet,” said the student, who is presently at home after the institute was closed due to fresh curbs to combat the second wave of the infection.
Many scholars complained that their grievances, sent via e-mail, and repeated phone calls to their funding agencies were falling on deaf ears.
“I have written a number of emails and made several phone calls to the grievance cell, but have not got any response. I have completed my post-doctoral research but my stipend for 2021 is pending,” said another student from a university in south India.
The students unanimously pointed out that the status of their fellowship stipends often showed as ‘under processing’ or ‘processed’. Yet, no money was transferred even after the stipulated period of processing.
“Normally, once the bill is processed, the stipend amount gets credited to the bank account within seven to 10 days. However, over the past several months, this has not happened even when the bills were said to be ‘processed’. The stipend disbursement has become more haphazard since March 2020,” said an SRF from an university in Punjab.
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