NEW DELHI: The government could hardly refuse to relent. On Friday, after 55 hours of constant protest and the police’s detaining dozens of “Occupy UGC” protestors at Bhalswa Dairy, senior officials in the Ministry of HRD told TOI that it will “revive the scheme for all the public universities in the country” but the beneficiaries of the scheme will be selected on merit. “One of the ways of selecting could be through an expert committee,” said an official. Till now, every researcher enrolled in an MPhil or PhD programme was eligible. The University Grants Commission’s decision to scrap the non-NET (National Eligibility Test) fellowship to MPhil and PhD scholars prompted massive student protests at its ITO headquarters.
The reasons cited for the decision to scrap were three – this scheme was considered “discriminatory” as it was available only to researchers in central universities; there “was no way to be sure that it went to quality, meritorious students” and it was delivered in the ‘direct benefit mode.’ Over 2014-15, the UGC spent Rs. 99.16 crore on this scheme although, as All India Students’ Association’s Sunny Kumar points out, “some universities would try to divert the grant elsewhere.”
The protests were getting harder to ignore. Not only did the police’s detaining the protesters sitting-in at the UGC have no impact – they were replaced by an even bigger number by afternoon – over 200 academics from campuses across India and even abroad issued a statement in their support and condemned the police action.
Protesters argued that the scrapping would harm research; impact women’s participation and that of the poor.