Early-career scientists hold a rally at the office of the Ministry of Human Resource Development in New Delhi on 16 January.

Pallava Bagla

A 25% pay raise? That’s not nearly enough, young Indian scientists say

NEW DELHI—In response to months of protests and marches, the Indian government announced yesterday that it will give early-career scientists raises of up to 25%. But leaders of the protest movement, who had asked for an 80% hike, immediately rejected the offer. “This hike is not acceptable. We will continue the street protests,” says Lal Chandra Vishwakarma, chair of the Society of Young Researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here.

Vishwakarma says research scholars will discuss how to proceed at an AIIMS meeting on Saturday, where “a nationwide shutdown of labs will be considered.”

The raise benefits more than 60,000 research fellows, a press statement issued by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) here says; all will get raises of at least 24%. (Indian research fellows also receive a housing allowance that varies by city.) And from now on, high performers can be eligible for additional financial incentives, says Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, the government’s principal scientific adviser, although details of the scheme have yet to be announced.

The hike will cost the government 6 billion to 7 billion rupees ($84 million to $98 million) according to DST estimate. Ashutosh Sharma, DST’s secretary, calls the raises a “positive development … which research scholars should ideally applaud.”

But many scientists say it’s not nearly enough. Even after the increase, research fellows in the first 2 years of their Ph.D. program will make only 31,000 rupees ($435) per month, and 35,000 rupees ($491) in the years after that. Research associates can make up to $758. Many will still earn little more than a government janitor or gardener, and the rates are a fraction of what Ph.D. students in Western countries can make. “We are very disappointed,” says Nikhil Gupta, a Ph.D. scholar in human physiology at the Center of Biomedical Research in Lucknow, India. “How can India progress if research scholars are unhappy?” Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai called the announcement “a blatant insult to the research scholars” in a statement.

Oh God, this is inadequate as it just does not meet the needs and aspirations.

C. N. R. Rao, Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research

The protesters also want an end to delays of up to several months in their payments. The new statement does not address that problem.

The hikes won’t stem the brain drain from India, many say. China is offering 1500 lucrative postdoctoral fellowships to lure Indian students, says C. N. R. Rao, a solid-state chemist at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bengaluru, India, and a science adviser to the previous prime minister. Rao’s first reaction to the offer, he says, was: “Oh God, this is inadequate as it just does not meet the needs and aspirations.”

Ignoring the researchers’ demands puts the government’s political future at risk, Vishwakarma says. “With India’s elections just 2 months away, we will ask young researchers to vote out the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has been unfair to researchers.”