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Trouble for Karnataka Minority PhD Scholars: Bommai Govt Cuts Fellowship Funds

Karnataka DoM passed an order wherein minority PhD students will not be given funds on their first year of joining.

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A new Karnataka government order calling for fellowship applications for minority PhD and MPhil scholars has slashed the fellowship amount that students are eligible to receive. While the fellowship amount has been slashed by 66% for PhD and MPhil students who joined in the academic year 2022-23, the cut is 33% for PhD scholars who joined in the academic year 2020-21 and 2021-22.

The order, dated 5 August 2022, was issued by the minority welfare department of the Karnataka government.

The reduction in fellowship amount is a result of depleting revenue of the state government due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the department has said.

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What Does the New Order by Minority Welfare Department Say?

The new order, signed by the deputy secretary of the minority welfare department, adds four new aspects to the existing rules for the disbursal of fellowship funds.

For PhD students who have enrolled in the academic year 2020-21, the department has agreed to provide them with a stipend of Rs 25,000, but with an exclusion of first year. This would mean that the PhD students will be given their fellowship only for second and the third year.

The same rule applies to students who have enrolled to the PhD programme in the academic year 2021-22.

As per the new order, this would mean that PhD students who are actually entitled to Rs 9 lakh stipend in three years would get only Rs 6 lakh.

Requesting anonymity, a PhD Scholar from Kalyan Karnataka region tells The Quint, "I am a first generation graduate in my family. My father works as agricultural labourer and my family does not have financial resources to fund my education. I am completely dependent on the scholarship fund to complete my research. I joined the programme in 2020-21, and wish to work as a scientist in soil studies. But, I am finding it difficult to continue my research as I do not have any resources to carry out surveys. The government is now saying it won't pay us the stipend for the first year. I feel cheated."

The microbiologist who is currently working in a lab in Bengaluru, enrolled for a PhD programme thinking that he could soon get into academia and teach undergraduate students.

However, he adds, "The new order is devastating. I left my small town, 400 kms away from Bengaluru to make my life better. But the economic burden of it is getting unbearable. There are times when I skip meals to save money for my travel to carry out the survey."

The new order is also a major setback for students who have enrolled for a PhD or MPhil programme in the academic year 2022-23.

The PhD and MPhil batch of 2022-23 will get the revised amount of Rs 10,000 and Rs 8,000 as their stipend, respectively.

This means that the fellowship funds for the new PhD scholars is slashed by 66%.

In an interaction with The Quint, an agricultural scientist in making says her decision to choose a university in Karnataka was due to the minority fellowship.

"My family is from Malanad region, and my father works as a daily-wage labourer. I chose to remain in our state to help my ailing mother and also carry out my research pertaining to oil extraction from seeds," she tells The Quint.

The agricultural scientist also claimed that she had cleared SRF (Senior Research Fellowship), a prestigious fellowship funded by the UGC (University Grants Commission), CISR (Council of Scientific & Industrial Research), DST (Department of Science and Technology), or the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) where the scholar gets a stipend of Rs 35,000 excluding housing allowance.

"I took the decision of staying back in Karnataka, after I realised I can avail the scholarship from minority welfare department. But, the department now says that it would provide funds starting only next year. I will lose close to Rs 3 lakh if the government doesn't pay me money. I don't know how I will manage living in Bengaluru."
PhD Scholar, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru

The PhD scholars who are getting funds from the minority welfare department are also barred from applying to other fellowships such as SRF (Senior Research Fellowship) and JRF (Junior Research Fellowship), granted by UGC (University Grants Commission).

The decision is likely to affect more than 250 students across the state, who are dependent on the fellowship fund to carry out their research, pay for their fee, and hostel stay.

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Minority Department Deaf to Scholars' Appeal

Students of minority community are eligible for fellowship of Rs 25,000 every month and Rs 10,000 every year as a bonus money for research. This policy was brought into exercise by the then Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in 2017.

However, with the new order in place, the PhD scholars are in a state of distress and are worried about living in an expensive city like Bengaluru.

"For the last two years, no new applications were called due to coronavirus pandemic. After listening to our concerns, the directorate of minorities has invited fresh applications this month, which is very gratifying. However, it has been suggested that the fellowship will be reduced to mere Rs 10,000. How can we live with such small stipend?"
PhD Scholar, IISc, Bengaluru

In an interaction with The Quint, a PhD scholar researching on pesticide residue on plants says, "Rs 10,000 as stipend is a very small amount. I need to manage my living, research and also send some money back home to family. I am the only bread winner in our house. I am lucky to have two acre agricultural land, but due to heavy rainfall, we lost the produce two months ago. So, the past two years have been very difficult. I hope the government hears us out and revises the stipend money back to what it was earlier.

A collective of research scholars from Bengaluru approached the minority welfare department and also wrote to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai asking him to consider their plea and ensure proper disbursal of fellowship funds.

However, no response has been given to aggrieved students who wrote multiple letters to the department seeking justice.

The students are now worried that they would fail to meet the expenses of universities’ yearly tuition fee, hostel accommodation fee, along with other expenses that is required to carry out field research.

Sources in directorate of minorities revealed to The Quint, "The department is facing severe revenue issues due to the pandemic, and the reduction in scholarship fund was done considering all parameters. we have also asked the students to pay back their fellowship amount with a 12% interest if they fail to finish their PhD within three years."

Reacting to the above order of finishing the PhD in three years, a PhD student in University of Agricultural Sciences in Raichur said, "The completion of a PhD degree irrespective of which branch one is enrolled in, will take a minimum of five years to complete. This newly stipulated time makes it extremely difficult for us to finish the research."

The Quint reached out to the minority welfare department for a comment, but failed to get a response from the officer incharge of disbursal fellowship funds.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  KARNATAKA   PHD   Higher Education 

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