Dozens of scientists who had been invited from positions abroad to join academic institutions across India under a prestigious government fellowship have not received research grants or salaries for months, the fellows and other scientists have said.
The delay in the release of funds for the Ramalingaswami Fellowships, managed by the Union science ministry’s department of biotechnology (DBT), has meant personal hardship for many of the fellows and, in some instances, stalled their research efforts.
The fellowships, launched in 2007-08, are intended to get scientists with a PhD or an MD who are in post-doctoral positions outside India and are working in biological sciences — including biotechnology, bioengineering and agriculture, or health care — to join academic institutions in the country.
The fellowship is named after the late Vulimiri Ramalingaswami, a pathologist and director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, who was one of India’s most regarded health researchers and died in 2001.
A scientist selected as a Ramalingaswami fellow receives a monthly Rs 100,000 fellowship, a house rent allowance, and an annual Rs 10-lakh research grant for five years. Over that period, the fellows are expected to be absorbed as full-time faculty or scientist in their host institution or elsewhere.
The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Indian Institutes of Technology, and the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, public and private universities and medical colleges are among the host institutions for the Ramalingaswami fellows.
A senior DBT official told The Telegraph that the funds would be released “soon” but declined to explain the cause of the delay. “It is getting solved,” the official said.
Two fellows, however, told this newspaper that DBT officials had told them that the agency was awaiting funds from the Union finance ministry.
A faculty member at a top academic institution who is not a Ramalingaswami fellow said the delay in funds release was puzzling because the fellowship was not a new scheme and the funds to support it should have been incorporated into the department’s annual budget.
“Whatever the reason, the delay is impacting fellows and their research,” said the faculty member, who requested that the academic institution not be named lest fellows hosted there face harassment. “We hope they resolve this soon.”
In 2021-22, the DBT had offered the fellowship to 61 scientists who were in post-doctoral research or equivalent positions in foreign countries including the UK, the US, Belgium, Canada, Israel, France, Germany and Switzerland.
A scientist who had joined a year earlier has not received either the salary or the research grants for nine months. “This was completely unexpected — this is a prestigious fellowship and when we joined, we were assured that funds (are) guaranteed for five years,” the scientist said.
The Rs 10-lakh research grant is intended for use by the fellows to buy lab equipment and consumables, and to pay for research staff.
“With the funds blocked, I’ve been unable to pay some suppliers who want to be paid before they supply again. They are gentle but firm about this,” the scientist who spoke to this newspaper said.
Science policy makers had earlier spoken with pride about the Ramalingaswami fellowship. In its first decade, from 2008 to 2018, the programme had selected 396 scientists for the fellowship from 1,492 applications, with 280 of them taking up positions in India.