THE INDIAN Council of Historical Research (ICHR) turned down a request for financial assistance from its former chairman, Professor Irfan Habib, for organising the Aligarh Historians Society’s (AHS) annual seminar on the country’s regional history last year.
While the AHS has been seeking funds since 2000, this was the first time that the ICHR refused to fund its annual seminar, according to Professor Shireen Moosvi, AHS secretary.
Habib, who is currently appointed as professor emeritus in the history department of Aligarh Muslim University, was the ICHR chairman from September 9, 1986, to July 1, 1990.
ICHR’s Research Projects Committee, which evaluates proposals seeking funds for research, seminars and workshops, met on August 8, 2016, to consider Habib’s request for Rs 3.5 lakh for the two-day seminar, titled ‘India and its Parts — Past and Present’, where historians Romila Thapar, Rajan Gurukkal, B P Sahu and Gopinath Ravindran, among others, presented papers.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the panel, of which ICHR’s incumbent chairman Y S Rao is also a member, shot down the request on the ground that it “did not find the proposal adequate in terms of the criteria for financial assistance”. Professors Michael Danino and Purabi Roy also attended the meeting.
Asked if he was convinced by ICHR’s reason for rejecting his proposal, Habib said, “No, regional history is one of the areas to which ICHR is, by its rules, supposed to give special attention; and our seminar was essentially about regional history.”
When contacted by The Sunday Express via email, ICHR’s current head wrote, “I wish ICHR should be able to meet the requirements of all those who seek financial assistance for all their academic endeavours. But its limited resources compel it to subsidise a small fraction of the proposals, leaving many disappointed when it meets periodically to sanction grants under various schemes. The demand is also increasing in manifold these years.
“The case you referred to might be one among those ICHR might have regretted. Unfortunately, the standard ‘phrase’ used for such regret letters is being applied since long. Further, the regret letter says, ‘this should not be construed as the merit of your proposal’. ICHR’s inability to meet the demand is not in any way reflective of the quality of a proposal. RFR (Chapter-I, Clause 4(c)) clearly says that the ICHR’s decision is final and such queries are not answered.”
In 2015, after the HRD Ministry, under its then minister Smriti Irani, reconstituted the ICHR with 18 new members, the Council, in a first, reduced its financial assistance for the AHS seminar to Rs 1 lakh. In contrast, the ICHR released Rs 2 lakh in 2012 for the seminar, Rs 2.5 lakh in 2013, and Rs 3.5 lakh in 2014, said Moosvi.
Incidentally, 2015 was also the year when ICHR stripped the Indian History Congress, the country’s oldest professional body, of its special status which allowed IHC to receive funds exceeding the fixed ceiling of Rs 5 lakh for its annual conference. Habib is the vice-president of IHC.
ICHR usually spends close to a crore on funding seminars, conferences and workshops in a year. In 2015-16, for instance, it spent over Rs 1.25 crore for this purpose.
The seminar, ‘India and its Parts: Past and Present’, was held at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, on December 29 and 30 last year during which 22 papers were presented.