No research professor appointed since 2015 in scheme that recognised CV Raman
A scheme begun shortly after Independence to recognise distinguished academics and artists and make use of their expertise in furthering research has come to a halt, with officials saying the fate of the programme awaits a decision from the Prime Minister’s Office.
There has been not one National Research Professor — against the sanctioned strength of up to 12 at a time — for the last three years.
The last NRPs were appointed in 2015. Under the scheme, begun in 1949, eminent people who have made outstanding contributions to their fields are considered for appointment as NRPs.
They are free to conduct research in their areas at an institution of their choice, and are expected to send an annual report on their work to the government.
“Research” is understood in a flexible way under the scheme, which has seen nearly 40 acclaimed people — including filmmaker Satyajit Ray, physicist S.N. Bose and writer Mahasweta Devi — appointed NRP.
Nobel laureate physicist C.V. Raman was the first NRP. Several veteran educationists said the NRPs benefited India’s research ecosystem and suggested the government’s act of keeping the scheme in limbo owed to its fear that eminent researchers might not toe its line blindly.
The NRPs are selected by a committee that has the Prime Minister, home minister, finance minister and education minister.
The NRPs are initially appointed for five years with the possibility of a five-year extension. The last of them received a monthly honorarium of Rs 75,000 and a pension of Rs 25,000 after the completion of their tenure.
The last NRPs to be appointed were Jayant Kumar Ray on April 1, 2015, and Ashok Gajanan Modak, S.L. Bhyrappa and Suryakant Bali on January 1, 2015.
Before the Narendra Modi government came to power, Goverdhan Mehta, M.S. Valiathan, C.N.R. Rao and Andre Beteille had served as NRPs. In 2017, the education ministry sent to the PMO a proposal for extensions to two NRPs. The PMO directed the ministry to review the NRP scheme.
A third-party evaluation of the scheme was conducted by the Indian Institute of Public Administration.
The institute supported the scheme but suggested certain changes, such as lowering the minimum age from 65 to 62 and setting up a scrutiny committee before sending proposals to the apex committee headed by the Prime Minister.
It also recommended revising the honorarium and pension in accordance with pay commission guidelines.
The file note by the education ministry, accessed by The Telegraph, shows the ministry endorsed the recommendations to lower the age criterion, raise the honorarium to Rs 2 lakh a month, and set up a screening committee.
The matter, with the recommendations and the ministry’s reply, was sent to the PMO in May 2021. The PMO has not taken a decision yet.
“The new (NRP) appointments will take place after a decision is taken about the fate of the scheme,” an official said. Neshat Quaiser, a retired academic who taught at the Jamia Millia Islamia university, said the government’s tardiness in taking a decision on the NRP scheme betrayed its disregard for research.
“The present government expects academics and researchers to become unconditional conformists to its policies and programmes,” he said.
“Researchers of repute may not toe the government line. That seems the reason for this scheme being put on the backburner.”
B. Hanumaiah, former vice-chancellor of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, said that delaying a decision on the scheme did not serve the interests of academics or research.
“The people selected under the NRP scheme are eminent people who motivate youngsters. Their involvement in research promotes the research ecosystem in the country and helps solve burning problems,” Hanumaiah said.
“India cannot compete globally without quality research. The scheme should continue.”
An email was sent on January 16 to higher education secretary Sanjay Murthy seeking his reaction to the concerns about the delay over a decision on the scheme. His response is awaited.
The higher education department under the education ministry had suggested internally in January 2021 that the NRP scheme be brought under a proposed National Research Foundation that would promote research in all disciplines. But this was shot down.