Published: 26th January 2019
Forget hikes, most protesting researchers haven't been getting the existing stiped on time for months
Many researchers in the country haven't been receiving their stipend for the past year. Some of them are sent wrong links by the HRD Ministry to register their complaint
You probably know that India's brightest research scholars all over the country have been protesting for months now for a hike in their stipend. What you probably did not know is that many of them have been receiving their stipends delayed for months. Even worse, many of them have continued working without any financial aid for close to a year now. While it cannot be put down to it, curiously enough most of them are involved rather vocally with the ongoing protests for a hike in research stipends.
Nikhil Gupta, National Representative and Coordinator of Research Scholars of India says that since the day he started coordinating the hike research protest, he had been contacted by at least 50 researchers from institutes around the country about an untimely and delayed disbursal of stipends. "There is no regular disbursal of fellowships. Even though the scholars are emailing the government departments, there is no response from anybody," he says.
A researcher at Centre for Bio-Medical Research, Lucknow, Nikhil himself had to face the same issue twice last year. His fellowship was disbursed only after he threatened to commit suicide in front of the CSIR Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, where he was a research fellow till July. "I'd filed an RTI seeking details about my stipend and in the reply, I was told that I'll get the stipend only after they (CSIR) gets all the documents regarding my joining from CDRI. But CDRI, on the other hand, said that they'd sent all the documents to CSIR. Finally, I got my stipend after I said that I'll commit suicide in front of CSIR," he says. Later, he faced the same issue a few months ago and received the pending stipend for three months (August, September, October) in January, after sending a series of emails. "This is nothing but a case of irresponsibility," he says.
Of the scholars who emailed Nikhil was Lipi Das, a researcher in ACTREC, Mumbai. A fourth-year PhD student, she hasn't been receiving her fellowship stipend since June 2018. Lipi says that before April 2018, the researchers were to submit their documents to Canara Bank every three months. "The nearest branch of the bank was in IIT Bombay and I'd submit all the documents regularly. Things were smooth back then and the stipend always came on time. Sometimes, it came in advance as well," she recalls. But post-April, the researchers were asked to submit the documents via the institute. "It took the institute a month to get everything on track. But since then, I haven't received my stipend," she says.
Lipi has been emailing the authorities about the delay periodically. But until now, she hasn't received any proper response. "Whatever email id I find, I email them. There have been days where I have emailed the same authorities six to seven times a day. Phone calls to them always go unanswered. It is difficult for me to follow up because I want to finish my work too," she says.
She also narrates an incident where she received a reply from the HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar's office, asking her to register her grievance and complaint at the Centralized Public Grievance Redress And Monitoring System. But she notes that the link that was sent to her was erroneous. "I even wrote back to them about the same, but until now no action has been taken," she observes. It is often difficult for these scholars at the time of the semester fee payment. Lipi says that she made the previous fee payment, taking money out of her savings. An active member at the current hike research protest, she says, "More than the hike, my concern is timely disbursal of the stipend. At least give us our money."
Anuradha Venkataramani, a Junior Research Fellow at IIT Bombay also had something similar to share. She says that she did not receive any fellowship money for the first six months of her PhD. "I had to write to CSIR repeatedly. I wrote an email to the HRD minister only to find out that my documents were misplaced. I had to send it again," she says. Six months later, when she received a notification, she had expected the authorities to clear all the backlogs. But she was shocked to find out that she'd received the stipends for only two months.
While there are no images or sob stories of researchers saying that they haven't had three square meals a day because their stipends haven't come through, their plight is quite badly affected. "I still have to receive the stipend for four months. Instead of doing the research on time, most researchers are spending their time in getting this red tape sorted," says Anuradha, a second-year PhD student. She also notes that the delay creates more trouble especially at the time of fee payment. Like Lipi, Anuradha too received an email from the HRD Ministry with a link to register her complaint. But the link took her to the wrong department initially. The second time, Anuradha was informed that her complaint was closed without any explanation.
We also spoke to Neeraj Mohan Gupta, a researcher at CSIR CDRI. While Neeraj hasn't received his stipend for the past three months and finds it hard to survive, he and his colleagues are not even allowed to protest peacefully by the institute's authorities. When will things come to a head? That is the question.