In New Delhi: This month, ThePrint has learned, more than 300 government awards for scientists were terminated by the ministries of science, space, health and family welfare, and earth sciences in an effort to severely limit the number of awards “to choose [the] really qualified candidates.”
A “Nobel Prize-like” science prize dubbed the “Vigyan Ratna” has also been suggested for establishment by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the future. This would be available to experts from all fields and given after consulting principal scientific advisor, according to the minutes of a meeting chaired by Home Secretary A.K. Bhalla on 16 September, which ThePrint has accessed.
The discovery comes after the scientific world was confused by the delay in announcing the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, India’s highest science honour. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which bestows the honour, typically announces it on September 26 of each year.
There is no mention of when the winner will be announced, but the prize will still be given out. The Indian science minister, Jitendra Singh, is quoted as saying that the CSIR will “have a celebration of eight decades of its inception soon with many commemorative activities and prizes to be announced” in a Press Information Bureau announcement from Monday.
Secretaries and officers from the departments under the ministries of science and technology, earth sciences, and health and family welfare attended the meeting on September 16.
The Department of Science and Technology had the most “discontinued” awards, with 207 of the department’s 211 awards being eliminated, according to the minutes.
All 38 Department of Atomic Energy awards will be replaced by a new one of “extremely high stature.” The three internal prizes given by the Indian Space Research Organisation will be replaced with a national award of great prominence for space science (ISRO).
Additionally eliminated were 34 awards from the Department of Health Research, 13 from the Department of Health and Family Welfare, six from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and three from the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
According to Bhalla, who is quoted in the minutes, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire to make the selection process transparent and the number of awards and recipients extremely limited. He further stated that appropriate instructions for awarding prizes had already been provided by the home ministry for the involved ministries or departments to abide by.
What endures, what changes
The Department of Science and Technology bestowed a total of 211 prizes, including 56 internal awards, 54 lecture/scholarship/fellowship-based awards, 97 private endowment awards, and four national honours.
Following a thorough deliberation, all private endowment prizes have been eliminated, along with lecture, scholarship, fellowship, and internal awards (given inside the department). Private endowment awards are honours given through endowments established by private businesses or people.
Additionally, there is a proposal to alter the conditions under which the famous Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize is awarded. Award winners presently get a lump sum cash payment of Rs. 5 lakh plus a special honorarium of Rs. 15,000 per month till they turn 65.
The 16 September meeting’s minutes, however, suggest limiting the honorarium payment to 15 years. The minutes also indicate that the idea of offering a lump sum in lieu of the honorarium was brought up, but no decision was made.
The Dr. Anna Mani National Award for Woman Scientist from the Ministry of Earth Sciences will now be combined with honours from other departments, such as those presented by the Ministry of Women & Child Development, among other adjustments. The minutes state that the other three will be replaced by a highly regarded national award.
According to the minutes, the National Florence Nightingale Nurses Award, which honours nursing professionals for exemplary service, would be “rationalised.” Currently, 51 National Florence Nightingale Nurses Awards are given by the health ministry.
13 of the 17 awards provided by the department of health and family welfare will no longer be given. The Kayakalp award, which was created by the department of health and family welfare to recognise and reward outstanding public health facilities, will also be eliminated.
The National Medical Council has temporarily suspended three of its national prizes, including the B.C. Roy Award; in their place, the health department may introduce a more prestigious honour.
The Department of Health Research has terminated 34 of the 37 prizes that were given out. There are two of the Indian Council for Medical Research’s grants for biomedical research among them.
The minutes state that the department has the option to replace these with a brand-new, highly regarded award in the medical industry.