When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru on Tuesday he met enthusiastic students and inspected research projects. He did not see the hundreds of research fellows who were wearing black arm bands in protest and in solidarity with thousands of their peers across the country. Their cause was to bring to the government’s notice the delay in a promised salary hike. The IISc protesters had considerately postponed expressing their outrage till after Modi left the venue.

Research students across India have been carrying out a concerted social media campaign for more than a year now to get their fellowship amounts increased. The Department of Science and Technology, the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resources Development are the three main agencies that grant fellowships to scholars across the country. In October last year, the DST finalised an increase in stipends that ranged from 55% for Junior Research Fellows from Rs 16,000 to Rs 25,000 to 66% for research associates from Rs 24,000 to Rs 40,000. In contrast, the starting salary for a graduate joining a mid- to large-size technology company in a city like Bengaluru will be between Rs 25,000 and Rs 40,0000 with an annual increment of 15% in a normal year.  The DST memo was followed by a UGC announcement in December of a 55% hike in 15 fellowship schemes.

While the announcements brought some relief to researchers they were disappointed that the DST and UGC would implement these hikes from October and December respectively instead of from the start of the financial year – April 2014. Most labs haven’t started getting the increased payments due to them from either agency.

Protracted delay

Another government announcement on Tuesday evening has upset the research community further. The Ministry of Human Resources also announced a 55% increase but in a vague notification that implied that the hike would come into effect from February 2015. “This now makes the hike implemented after 58 months since the previous hike, as against 6 month for all the other government employees,” said Pankaj Jain, secretary of the institute’s student council, in an email to Scroll.in.

Moreover, the ministry’s notification does not make any distinction in the emoluments due to junior and senior research fellows.

“People who actually calculate how much money is available have to balance that with demand,” said K VijayRaghavan, secretary of the Department of Biotechnology who worked on the initial proposal for the science fellowship increases. “Every ministry, everyone has actually tried hard to do the best possible.”

The ministry’s best doesn’t seem to be good enough for the IISc scholars, five of whom have decided to go on hunger strike to get HRD minister Smriti Irani's attention . Two days ago a scientist from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Mohali announced his indefinite hunger strike. Through the day on Tuesday research scholars took out protests in Indian Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Technology and other universities and research institutes in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Ropar, and Shillong.