The Centre on Thursday announced four sets of new science awards, their details triggering speculation among scientists whether the government has discontinued the cash component of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prizes, ranked among India’s most prestigious science awards.
The Union science and technology ministry’s announcement of the new Rashtriya Vigyan Puraskar comes a year after the Centre had directed various government science departments to discontinue dozens of their awards and introduce “high stature” awards with new names.
The annual Rashtriya Vigyan Puraskar will be among the nation’s “highest recognitions” for “notable and inspiring” contributions in science, technology and innovation, the ministry said, releasing the awards’ details.
The awards include a set called the Vigyan Ratna — a maximum of three awards — to recognise lifetime achievements and contributions made in any field of science and technology. Another set named Vigyan Shri — a maximum of 25 — will recognise distinguished contributions in any field of science and technology.
An award named Vigyan Yuva Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar — also a maximum of 25 — will recognise and encourage scientists aged below 45 years who have made exceptional contributions.
The ministry said all awards would have a “sanad” (citation certificate) and a medal.
The announcement has prompted some scientists to speculate whether the Vigyan Yuva Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar awards will be a new avatar of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar (SSB) prizes given each year by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
The SSB prizes — also for scientists below 45 years — come with citations and a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh.
A September 13 note sent by Union science and technology secretary Rajesh Gokhale to all science departments with details of the Rashtriya Vigyan Puraskar had said “it has been decided to discontinue with internal awards of all other departments”, except for one category of internal awards in the atomic energy department.
“This line in the note read with the details announced today suggest that the Vigyan Yuva Bhatnagar awards will be the new version of the old SSB prizes,” said a senior scientist in a central institution. “But without the cash component.”
“But we’re only speculating — the CSIR or the ministry will need to clarify whether the old SSBs will continue in parallel with the new awards. But that seems unlikely.”
Queries sent by this newspaper to Gokhale and the CSIR director-general seeking clarification whether the cash component of the SSB prizes had been dropped have evoked no replies.