For three months now, Gulzar, a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad (UOH), has been meeting his family’s daily expenses with money borrowed from friends and relatives.
“I was hoping that my scholarship (Maulana Azad National Fellowship, also known as MANF) will come after a month, but it has not come since September this year,” a woeful Gulzar, who wished to be identified only by his first name, told South First.
The fourth-year Urdu literature scholar since 2019, who is supposed to receive around ₹43,000 every month from the scholarship, added: “I am married and I have to look after my family. It is difficult to make ends meet at times.”
Thousands of other existing scholars from minority communities are similarly dependent on the stipend from the fellowship and have not received it for three months now.
This is the second time in a year that scholars are complaining about the delay of the Union government’s MANF, which it recently decided to discontinue.
The Union Minister for Minority Affairs Smriti Irani informed Parliament on 8 December that the Central government had decided to stop the scheme from 2022-23 as it overlapped with similar schemes.
The MANF provides five-year fellowships as financial assistance to students from six notified minority communities — Buddhist, Christian, Jain, Muslim, Parsi and Sikh.
Meanwhile, the delay, often extending to six-eight months, was reported in July this year about the disbursal of the MANF fellowship stipends.
‘Delay has become a trend now’
Syed, an MANF research scholar in the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in Hyderabad since February this year, viewed the delay as a trend.
“It is supposed to be a monthly stipend. The last instalment I received was in September. Even then, it came after six months’ delay. I believe that it has become a biannual exercise for the ministry now due to the bureaucratic red-tapism,” he told South First.
Until this year, the MANF, which used to be a regular fellowship, had seen the longest gap of two months in stipend disbursal, even during the pandemic.
Syed, who gave only his first name, opined that now that government has decided to discontinue the MANF scholarship, the tendency of further delays will increase. “The duty-bound nature of officials towards it might decrease, and they might not disburse the amount in a timely manner,” he said.
As per the scholars, the Ministry of Minority Affairs promised to create a framework to regulate and process the money, but there is no word on that either.
Related: Uncertain future for minority students as Centre scraps MANF
Scholars at an advanced stage of research
Zahid Iqbal, a second-year history scholar at MANUU from Kashmir, told South First, “All scholars are affected, but the most affected ones are those who are at an advanced stage of research.”
He added that not getting the stipend hampers fieldwork work a lot. “It is equally important for thesis submission to bear printing and other miscellaneous costs,” he said.
Several of them live away from home and have to pay rent on time, he added,
“There is constant psychological pressure as my food, clothing, and shelter expenditure are dependent solely on the MANF scholarship amount. If I do not pay my house rent in time, my landowner will ask me to vacate the premises,” he said.
Amal Jose Philip, a second-year political science scholar at UOH from Kerala, told South First, “When a scholar is at the PhD stage from a minority community, the family also expects support. This was one aim of the UPA government to start the MANF fellowship. But due to delay in stipend disbursal, it is hard to do that.”
Research in India underfunded
Philip alleged that India was not able to produce good quality research and researchers because the entire sector was underfunded.
“It is not because we do not know how to conduct surveys. But when we need a good research sample, we have to go out in the field,” he said.
“Now, for a huge sample, a researcher cannot do the fieldwork alone. So, research assistants need to be employed and paid. And this is a timely exercise for which funds need to be timely,” he explained.
He added that research was a full-time job and required money as there would not be a quality sample without a sufficient amount.
Why the delay?
The MANF covers all UGC-recognised institutions and the Ministry for Minority Affairs (MoMA) provides the funds.
Around a week ago, Syed spoke to an official at the ministry and was told that the delay could continue for a few more months.
“The official (Aditya S Singh, Under Secretary for Scholarships, MoMA) said that he did not know when the fellowship was going to be passed. He told me that the waiting time could be anything between two days to two months for getting approval from our superiors. And then another one to two months to process the file,” Syed recollected.
As per Zahid, the issue of establishing a nodal office between the UGC and the MoMA, which was reported as the cause for the delay in September, seems to be the reason this time as well.
However, Philip claimed that the MoMA was now the nodal office, and the delay was because MoMA was now “rationalising” minority students across their social categories.
“The minister (Irani) said that MANF and other scholarships are overlapping but it is basic knowledge that one student can only avail of one scholarship. For example, a Muslim scholar will come under the OBC fellowships as well as the MANF but will get only one. So the exchequer is not losing any money at the end,” he observed.
South First called Aditya S Singh, but did not receive a response. An email has been sent, and a response is awaited.