Last week, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research issued a notification with the details of a stipend hike for research fellows receiving grants from the agency. In this long-awaited memo has been welcomed by research scholars who have been frustrated by the pace at which government funding agencies are tackling the issue of increasing their salaries.

The CSIR said that stipends of the most junior researchers would be increased from the current Rs 16,000 per month to Rs 25,000 and at the senior-most level from Rs 24,000 to Rs 40,000. The notification is part of an across-the-board revision of stipends by close to 25 funding agencies to research fellows in India.

The Department of Science and Technology kicked the process of with its directive in October to similar effect. But even this came only after a year-long campaign by the research community, which got its last pay revision in 2010. Five months after the DST directive, the issue of pay hikes is caught in a web of different memos from the various agencies ordering different dates of implementation of the pay hikes and creating disparities between the levels of pay.

Scholars are miffed

For example, the DST in October 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. This was followed by a University Grants Commission announcement in December of a 55% hike in 15 fellowship schemes. But while the DST allowed for the hikes to come into effect from October 2014, the UGC said its order was effective only from December. The Ministry of Human Resources in February announced its 55% pay hike but implied it would come into effect from February 2015.

The ministry later clarified that the stipend increase would be effective from October 2014. However, research scholars are miffed that the ministry has ignored the various categories that differentiate their pay levels.

“There is a problem about the MTech students and students who are pursuing MSc and then going for PhD,” said Mayank Gautam, senior research fellow at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences. “There is no clarity whether they will provide the same amount to them for five years. Someone who has an MTech is already senior to someone who has a BTech or an MSc degree. So they should get a Senior Research Fellowship if they go for a PhD or higher technical course. Right now the MHRD has no clarification on this.”

Only half of the various funding agencies have even issued notifications, however confusing their directives may be. No one has clarity on the duration of the stipend hike either, said Shubham Badjate, general secretary for academic affairs for post-graduate students at IIT Bombay. “The notification doesn’t say for how many years this stipend is for and even university authorities are not sure about whether to give this stipend to fifth year students.”

The issues of funding run deeper that deciding pay hikes. Even sanctioned pay hikes are inordinately delayed. “The main thing is the release of the money," Gautam said. "The salary is released only after three months orsix 6months or a year. I have been waiting for my salary for more than seven months.”

Snared in red tape

While researcher pay is stuck in bureaucracy, so is the funding of laboratories. “Grants are sanctioned in the beginning of the year but the money is not released,” said Pankaj Jain, a molecular biophysicist and secretary of the Indian Institute of Science’s student council. “When the money is suddenly released you find that you have to spend Rs 50 lakhs in two months. Come on, this is not how research is done.” The large amounts spent at the end of the year are often wasted on unwanted material and have no contribution to ongoing research, Jain said.

In February, PhD fellows in universities across India wore black armbands, took out protest marches, formed human chains, raised slogans and held candlelight vigils to spur the government into action. Now they are considering forming a national level forum that can protect their interests.

“If the government doesn’t encourage research pro-actively then nobody will do research in India,” said Jain. “It is hypocrisy on the country’s part that we cry about people going abroad and settling there when it is our fault that we have made such a system that even if somebody wants to do good work they cannot do it here.”