There is no shortage of central funds for scientific research and the budgets of scientific institutions have not been curtailed, Union Minister of Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan said on the sidelines of an event in Pune on Monday.
His comments came amid complaints by scientists on how research funds from the Centre were drying up.
“Since I took over… in November 2014, we have increased the number of fellowships and budgets for scientists and we have records to prove that. It is not accurate to say that the budgets have been slashed,” Harsh Vardhan said, adding that the central government was committed to promoting scientific research in the country.
The minister was in Pune to attend an event at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. In August last year, hundreds of scientists from various institutions had taken to the streets to complain against the lack of funds for research activities, among other issues.
However, some scientists pointed out that the situation on the ground was a far cry from the minister’s assurances.
Vineeta Bal, an immunologist with the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research, Pune, said funding for numerous fellowships had been suspended despite the availability of eligible candidates. “… The number of fellowships and scholarships awarded may have increased, but a majority of them have been just ‘in-principle’ and of a ‘controlled’ nature, where the funds have not been actually sanctioned. Either the schemes have been suspended or there are no sanctions for proposed projects,” said Bal.
She cited the example of the first batch of the National Post-doctoral Fellowship (NPDF) Programme, who had been provided funds for their projects, while two other batches of researchers are still awaiting responses from the Department of Science and Technology.
“Many scientists who have won the fellowship under NPDF have not been able to start their work as they are yet to receive any funds for research activities. In addition, there has not been any notification seeking applications for the 2018 fellowship… it is usually issued by November or December…,” Bal told Pune Newsline.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, a senior scientist from the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, said the government needed to do much more to support scientific programmes. “Since science involves huge sums of money, there is a need to engage society with appropriate science and make them aware of real facts over fake propaganda, which is the result of an irrational thought process,” said Bhattacharya.
A doctoral student at a city-based research institute, who was actively involved with the ‘March for Science’, said it had united the scientific community. “Many in the community have experienced the hardships of budget cuts and today, it is a pertinent issue for scientists. Thankfully, after we organised the march, scientists have been much more willing to discuss the issue openly,” he said.