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Two government-funded science academies cancel awards on Centre’s directive

Sections of scientists have interpreted the move as fresh evidence of what one former government scientist described as an exercise to 'snatch away the autonomy of our scientific institutions'

G.S. Mudur New Delhi Published 20.06.23, 05:16 AM
The Indian National Science Academy

The Indian National Science Academy Sourced by the Telegraph

Two science academies have abolished all their awards under instructions from the Union science and technology ministry as part of the Centre’s move, announced last year, to discontinue dozens of science and health awards given by government-linked institutions.

The Indian National Science Academy (INSA) has abolished 72 awards intended for young scientists, science teachers, and scientists of international stature, among others, while the National Academy of Sciences, India (NASI) has discontinued more than 20 awards, the academies’ officials have told The Telegraph.

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Sections of scientists have interpreted the move to cancel the awards — instituted by scientists for scientists — as fresh evidence of what one former government scientist described as an exercise to “snatch away the autonomy of our scientific institutions”.

“The philosophy seems to be — if an institution receives government funds, the government will decide whether and what awards the institution can give away,” the scientist said.

The country’s third science academy — the Indian Academy of Sciences — had received similar instructions but wrote back to the department of science and technology (DST) that it had no awards, an official with the academy said.

All three science academies are listed among “autonomous bodies” that receive funds from the DST. For 2023-24, the DST budget has earmarked a total of Rs 1,560 crore for 25 autonomous bodies.

Many believe that the DST instructions to the INSA were in line with a Union home ministry directive of September last year asking central science and health departments to discontinue dozens of existing awards, including internal and private endowment awards.

The home ministry note had asked the DST to discontinue 97 private endowment awards, 56 internal awards, and 54 fellowship or scholarship awards and instead start a “new scheme” for fellowships and scholarships.

At a meeting on September 16, 2022, the home secretary told officials from the science and health departments that “the number of awards and awardees should be very restrictive and (the) selection process must be transparent to select really deserving candidates”, according to the meeting’s minutes.

The home secretary had suggested that science departments should in consultation with the principal scientific adviser to the government institute a “Nobel Prize-like award” with the possible title “Vigyan Ratna”, open to scientists from all disciplines.

An official with one of the academies told this newspaper that general guidelines for any future awards mentioned the desire for the award to be given away by “government luminaries”.

Scientists had in September said the purpose of the proposed changes appeared unclear. “In a way, it would be good to discourage this prevalent award culture,” a scientist said. “At the same time, the elimination of so many awards is likely to intensify the competition for the ones that remain.”

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