New Delhi: Amid COVID-19 concerns, research scholars in India are in a dismal situation because of the delay in disbursement of central fellowships.
A Junior Research Fellow (JRF) says that "despite several letters and emails to the concerned authority, we have not received a single positive response so far".
Researchers offered measures to grab UGC officials' attention and aware them of their financial instability. Thus, scholars have taken initiatives of signing group petitions, mailing in the group and digital protests. The Indian Research scholars have an official Facebook group named 'UGC Fellowships Forum' comprising around 52000 members.
This platform is being used to discuss and share their research-related concerns. Researchers said that they are in depression as they are unable to meet necessary expenditure in time that is day-to-day expenses, rent, medical expenses and expenses on research and education. In an official statement, scholars explained that thousands of researchers have qualified the National Eligibility Test and Junior Research Fellowship but have not yet received a single rupee from fellowships. Lakhs of research scholars have not received fellowship amount for 6 to 12 months because of irregularities in disbursements.
"UGC has not disbursed funds. Some people are not getting funds for months. It has made our life hell. We had even written to the Education Minister, UGC and Finance ministry, but yet we have not received our fellowship. The delay has seriously impeded our research and we have to struggle for survival. Needless to say, our research has been adversely affected. Whenever we try to talk to UGC, they say the amount will be credited "shortly" or paid in "next payment cycle" but we have heard no concrete answer. A few scholars have been receiving the same reply since months". Snigdha Konar, a PhD scholar from JNU, told Madhyamam.
Researchers also raised a concern about the fellowships that are being denied as per the recent UGC guidelines which requires a Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) conversion meeting if they have to receive fellowships on completion of 3 years of the research period. Scholars whose SRF meeting were scheduled but postponed because of lockdown, scholars whose documents haven't been uploaded by the university as they were still being processed by the university, and scholars whose SRF documents were uploaded by the university but not yet approved by UGC have said to be withheld have all been affected.
"I have left a good job for PhD and now the government is forcing us to quit PhD. This is not just my case, but thousands of research scholars are suffering because of non-payment of fellowships. We are more worried about our essentials and family than our research now," Naafih, a PhD scholar from Pondicherry University, told Madhyamam.
"There are scholars whose fellowships have been withheld since September 2019. Since the change in regulation was made last year, there are scholars who are in the fourth or fifth year of their research work. Sometimes supervisors or HODs torture scholars by not conducting SRF meetings due to departmental favouritism, researchers collectively said in an official statement.