The Indian government’s plan to scale back awards in fields of science and medicine would be a disincentive, senior researchers told Nature India.
Potential cutbacks were discussed at a meeting of government officials where the home secretary, Ajay Kumar Bhalla, suggested instituting a ‘Nobel Prize-like’ award (Vigyan Ratna) for scientists in consultation with the government’s principal scientific advisor (PSA).
The government is calling the gradual programme of reductions, started three years ago, a process of “transformation”.
Former director general of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Raghunath A Mashelkar, says the policy is disappointing. “We have to incentivise science and scientists. This is a step towards dis-incentivisation.”
Virologist Gagandeep Kang says awards have their own intrinsic value, and that removing them will “result in fewer incentives for Indian researchers who already struggle with logistic challenges.”
“It is an agency’s choice to start or stop an award. But supporting science with sufficient and timely research funding, and ensuring young researchers are paid on time, should not be debatable,” says virologist Shahid Jameel.
Shekhar Mande, former director general of CSIR, says the decision may have been taken because of an overlap of awards by different ministries. “People who do well in their fields are likely to get multiple awards from various ministries for the same work,” he says.
Some say too many awards may dilute their quality and ‘prestige value’. Pradipta Banerji, professor of Civil Engineering at IIT Bombay, says, “Pruning the mushrooming of awards and fellowships in science may enhance the status of the remaining awards.”
The delay in announcing the annual Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar (SSB) awards that recognise achievements of young scientists every year on September 26, has sparked speculation on social media about its continued existence.
Junior minister of science and technology, Jitendra Singh, did not respond to queries made by Nature India on the delay of the SSB awards announcement. Ajay Sood, PSA to the Indian government, says he is unaware of the status of the Bhatnagar awards.
At the government meeting, a proposal was made to replace the monthly remuneration of SSB awardees with a lump sum amount, to cap the period of the monthly remuneration to 15 years.
Mande describes the delay in the announcements as ‘puzzling’. “It has generated unnecessary speculation on the continuity of the awards.” However, a national newspaper quoted anonymous government sources saying the awards may be announced soon.
Arindam Ghosh, professor of physics at the Indian Institute of Science, says the delay in announcement of the SSB awards is disappointing and demotivating.
“Even the Swarnajayanti fellowship for scientists under 40 was not announced this year,” Ghosh, a 2012 Bhatnagar awardee, told Nature India.