Tough times are ahead for the research scholars of India. At one hand the constitutional validity of Aadhaar is challenged in the Supreme Court by 27 petitions. We have more than one worrying incidents of recent Aadhaar data leaks. Supreme Court announced an indefinite extension in Aadhaar linkage to different services. On the other hand, the young scientists of this country are suffering from the callous implementation of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), where scholarships to the research scholars are supposed to be disbursed directly to Aadhaar-linked bank account. However, the ground scenario is shocking.
According to the complaints of CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) fellows of Delhi University (DU), they have not received even their first fellowship as JRF since they joined. The situation of UGC (University Grant Commission) fellows in DU is also the same. Moreover, the contingency bills of the scholars have not been passed for the financial year 2017-18, and it is now at the verge of lapse, making them deprived of their contingency money. A change.org petition, which was initiated by a senior research fellow of Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and started demanding timely disbursal of fellowships, gathered over 3,200 signatures till now. Although the adverse situation of the research scholars cannot be fully judged by this, still it provides a glimpse of the scenario. Usually, institutes used to pay fellowships to the scholars and then adjust accounts with the disbursing body. However, the situation is different under DBT. According to the recent government mandate CSIR/UGC fellowships are to be linked with Aadhaar. Scholars will not get fellowship in the absence of proper Aadhaar linkage. Ignoring the possibility of implementing DBT through NEFT banking system, the government is imposing Aadhaar linkage for fellowship disbursal by using DBT as an excuse.
Since the forceful implementation of DBT, the CSIR fellows are going through an unnecessary complex procedure. Firstly, they need to fill a pro-forma with their Aadhaar number, bank account number, and other details. The institute is also required to send a grant-in-aid bill by the 10th of each month. Moreover, viva-voce at the end of each academic year and submission of subsequent three-member assessment committee report to CSIR are also required before CSIR sanctions the release of the fellowship for another year. In a complex procedure like this, it is difficult to identify where the actual delay in disbursing the fellowship is taking place. Moreover, sense of accountability does not exist at any side, which makes the scholars the only victim of this system. At one side CSIR is avoiding responsibility by stating that paperwork had not been coming through from the institutions, and therefore, it is not possible for CSIR to award fellowships to several scholars. On the other side, institutes are not ready to take the responsibility of such delays. The helpless students are getting sandwiched in between their institutes and their funding agencies. Several glitches in Aadhaar linking procedure are only adding more troubles to their present situation.
In case of IISc and DU, the students reported irregular disbursal or delay of several months. Pratik Narain, a scientist at Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) in Luknow, stated that he is paid only once a year. The cases of more renowned institutes are little better. As no one bothered, the victim students in IISc organized themselves through a Whatsapp group, gradually registering more than hundred participants. According to a spreadsheet report (which tracked fellowships till December 2017) made by them, around 30 students have not received their dues since the DBT scheme had started in April 2017. Another 10 have not received their disbursal till August 2017. Another such spreadsheet displays a partial list of 60 students who faces delay in their fellowship disbursal. Responses from some of the officials are as shocking as the everyday murder of dissent, which has become the present reality of India. A complaint, signed by around 50 research scholars, was addressed to the vice chancellor of DU against a DU section officer in the finance department, as this official “personally threatens the students of delaying and rejecting their paperwork.”
Throughout the country onslaughts on student bodies are performed through all possible means. Delay in fellowship disbursal is one of ongoing issues among many, such as privatization of education, excessive semester fee-hike, withdrawal of post-matric scholarship, saffronizing campuses, and most importantly attack on democratic voices inside campuses. However, the students are resisting the attacks, in spite of receiving numerous threats from different authorities starting from immediate supervisor to institute administration. In a circumstance like this, it is our duty to stand beside the struggling young minds, who are seeking a change in the present status-quo.