Hikes in JRF, SRF still remain uncertain after high-level DST meeting in December 2022; scholars plan protests

After scholars sent many representations last year, DST held a meeting in this regard, but has not updated on the matter
Research scholars'' trike on February 17 | (Pic: Dr Lal Chandra Vishwakarma)
Research scholars'' trike on February 17 | (Pic: Dr Lal Chandra Vishwakarma)

More than a month has elapsed since research scholars from eminent institutes like IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) and IISERs (Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research) held a nationwide strike for regular disbursement of and hike in fellowships. But their disappointment continues as they state that the government is yet to listen to them.

The research scholars have been urging that the Junior and Senior Research Fellowships (JRF and SRF) be hiked as it was revised last in 2018 and never after that. According to Dr Lal Chandra Vishwakarma, President of the All India Research Scholars Association (AIRSA), in 2018 as well, the scholars had organised a strike to effect a hike. And now that more than four years have passed, the need for an increase in the amount is pressing, with the increasing expenses.

Dr Vishwakarma informs that since August 29, 2022, they have been submitting representations, emails and even trying to meet the concerned government officials with their request for a hike and regular disbursement, but they haven't received a response till date. "The government talks of the importance of scientific innovations but if scholars are in constant worry about their expenses, how can they focus on research and how can they contribute to scientific development?" he questions, distressed.

After the scholars sent several representations last year, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) held a meeting in this regard. "Dr @srivaric Secretary @IndiaDST chaired a high-level inter-ministerial meeting to review #fellowship emoluments for #JRFs, #SRFs & #RAs in which Sr. officials from 13 S&T Depts./ministries & @PrinSciAdvOff participated. @PMOIndia @DrJitendraSingh @guptaakhilesh63 @isro," reads a tweet from DST on December 21, 2022.

An elusive meeting?
However, a PhD scholar from IISER Berhampur informs that they have not been updated on the discussions of the meeting yet. With the uncertainty building and monetary issues making the situation more difficult, two research scholars, who wish to remain anonymous, filed two RTI queries on separate days earlier this year. They received the replies to both on February 23.

"The proposal is under consideration," reads one of the replies, while the other states, "The matter is under process, so the minutes (of the December 21 meeting) cannot be shared in public domain till the decision on the matter is concluded." This has frustrated the scholars.

Prior to receiving the replies, the scholars held a nationwide strike on February 17. But even then, Dr Vishwakarma claims that the DST is not ready to listen to their requests. "We feel that until we go on a mass protest again, nothing will be done. So we are on the way to planning a protest in front of the DST in Delhi in April," he said.

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