Friday, March 1, 2024

No funds for months, beneficiaries of Maulana Azad fellowship struggle in universities

A total of around 1,900 destitute beneficiaries of Maulana Azad fellowship in 27 universities across India are left deprived of funds for more than three months.

Also, the proposed hike in the fellowship amount has not been implemented even after six months from declaration.

Under the MANF scheme, Junior Research Fellows (JRF) get Rs 31,000 per month and Senior Research Fellows (SRF) Rs 35,000 per month. 

The stipend is revised every four years. It was in 2019, the last hike was introduced. 

As per the norm, a new tariff was brought out in June 2023 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST). 

While the researchers and doctoral students covered under fellowship from other ministries such as education, tribal affairs, and social justice and empowerment are getting the increased stipend following this order, the MANF fellows claim that they have not been made aware of any increase.

Like other government fellowships for Scheduled Caste, Other Backward Class for JRF and SRF, the MANF was supposed to abide by the office memorandum issued by the DST under the Ministry of Science and Technology dated 26 June, 2023

“According to a DST memorandum in 2019, the stipend of all fellowships is to be revised every four years. The sum was to be revised to Rs 37,000 (JRF) and Rs 42,000 (SRF). The stipend of research scholars under other central government fellowships has been revised. Why are MANF scheme beneficiaries being made to wait for so long?” Vishwakarma, president of the All India Research Scholars Association (AIRSA) — the body representing research scholars in India — told The Print.

Seeking an explanation on the delay of stipends and their hikes, researchers have collectively written to both the Ministry as well as the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC), which is responsible for the release of the MANF funds.

Similarly,  AIRSA had earlier written to the Union minority affairs minister Smriti Irani and the minority affairs secretary urging a hike in fellowship amount and timely disbursement of the stipends.

But the official response was not a satisfactory one.  

“Payments will be made as and when funds are released by the ministry. As for a hike in the fellowship, the decision will be taken by the ministry,” the official said without disclosing any substantial information.

The MANF, which was launched in 2009, aimed at providing financial assistance for five years to students from six notified minority communities, belonging to the economically weaker/non creamy layer.

Under MANF, 1,000 students were awarded fellowship annually to pursue an M.Phil and PhD.

According to information provided by the ministry sources, out of 1,000 beneficiaries, 750 were selected through the National Eligibility Test (NET) for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), while the remaining were for the subjects that came under basic sciences through the Joint CSIR-UGC (Council of Scientific & Industrial Research-University Grants Commission) test. 

In November 2022, the BJP led union government announced that it was discontinuing the five-year fellowship, citing financial burden and an overlap of various other central schemes. 

After widespread opposition against the decision came out from different corners, the government decided to continue fellowship to the existing beneficiaries who were awarded fellowships till the end of the financial year 2021-22.

It has almost been a year since the  government had promised to restart the allocation of funds for the already enrolled students, but no adequate attention has been paid to the grievances of MANF fellows.

Meanwhile, Congress MP T.N. Prathapan had written to Irani seeking an immediate resolution to the issue.  

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