Prime Minister Narendra Modi posing with awardees and other officials at the CSIR's Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology 2016-2018 ceremony in New Delhi. Credit: Qamar Sibtain/The India Today Group via Getty Images

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”.

What the government plans

Department of Science and Technology

All private endowments awards may be discontinued

All lecture/scholarship/fellowship-based awards may be discontinued

Department may start a new scheme for scholarship/ fellowship with honorarium

Internal awards may be discontinued and awards may be merged

Department of Atomic Energy

A single award may replace 25 awards conferred by public sector companies and 13 non-core domain awards

Department of Space

A single ‘national level’ award may replace three internal awards award

Department of Biotechnology

Six awards will be converted to fellowships

Department of Scientific and Industrial Research

Of its 7 awards, only the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award may be continued. The remaining 6 to be discontinued or merged with other awards

Ministry of Earth Sciences

The Anna Mani Award for women scientists may be merged with awards for women by departments such as the Ministry of Women & Child Development

Three other awards may be discontinued

A new ‘national level’ award may be instituted for earth sciences.

Department of Health and Family Welfare

Kayakalp award may be discontinued

Three national awards by National Medical Council are at present suspended

All nine private Endowments Awards may be discontinued.

Department of Health Research

CNMC-STS Award may be converted into a research grant

Two ICMR award for biomedical research i.e. ICMR- Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Centenary award and Subhash Mukherjee award, may be discontinued

A new award may be instituted in the field of medicine

All 32 private Endowments Awards may be discontinued

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.