By Anjali Chhabra
New Delhi: A tweak in the process for hiring researchers on contract for Government of India ministries and a proposal to route all such contractual recruitments through private hiring agencies appear to have sparked discontent among scientists, many of whom foresee long-term damage to research work in the country and rise in vacancy-filling corruption.
In a circular issued this month, the Narendra Modi government has decided to outsource recruitment of scientists from the next financial year for research projects undertaken by different ministries and institutes funded by it.
Private hiring agencies are proposed to keep scientists on their rolls and post them for work in different ministries -– a process similar to hiring of private Group D staff or security staff for ministries.
“It is demeaning and demoralising. You cannot treat scientists like private security guards,” said a scientist from a central research institute.
“It will be a national catastrophe. A private agency’s employee working in a government lab will have no accountability in terms of research quality and outcome,” he said.
In contrast to the farm bills which were aimed at removing the middlemen, the move on outsourcing of scientific and technical manpower is going to create a new set of middlemen, he added.
A senior scientist in the Ministry of Science and Technology, on the condition of anonymity, said “I am disappointed. But it is the decision by the Cabinet on the recommendation of Department of Expenditure. I don’t know how to manage the projects.”
He said by adopting the same hiring process for scientists as the one used for hiring private security guards, the government has sent a very demoralising message to budding scientists.
“Which self-respecting engineer/scientist will come as a daily wager? Our scientific administrators should go and reason out with the powers that be. Will anybody do it?”
A labour ministry official said the proposed changes are aimed at speeding up recruitments and research work. “The final decision after interview and screening under the new process will still remain with the hiring ministry’s officials. The private hiring agency will only shortlist and send suitable scientific/technical manpower for interview or test,” he said.
Sources say the proposed change in the hiring rules for scientists may impact at least 2,000 to 3,000 research-related vacancies, including those of the level of Scientist B group, whose salaries range from Rs 40,000 to over Rs 100,000.
The impact of the tweak may be felt more in ministries like earth sciences or projects of institutions like Indian Council of Medial Research, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, National Institute of Ocean Technology, National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Central Road Research institute or Forest Research Institutes, among others.
Critics of the proposed hiring rule changes say that by involving a private agency, the process will become more vulnerable to corruption and lead to exploitation of job-seekers.
“Private agencies take commissions from job-seekers and often don’t pay them the full entitlement. In such a scenario, will a researcher be able to focus on promoting knowledge-related work?” queried a serving scientist.
Also, there are concerns about bypassing of reservation rules by the private hiring agency which may not provide enough manpower from the reserved categories, he said.
In the current scenario, scientific research undertaken by the ministries has heavy overtones of welfare objective. “The change in rules and entry of private agencies’ researchers may shift the focus from welfare work to commercial benefits,” said another researcher.
He said the new hiring model seems to be influenced from the practice abroad but in those countries there is huge transparency and accountability, which is lacking in our country.
“If involvement of private sector research is the idea, it should be welcomed. Research work can be given to the private sector. But involvement of a private agency for hiring researchers for government labs and projects is wasteful expenditure.”