Read in : தமிழ்

Share the Article

Facing an acute paucity of funds, Chennai’s premier social science thinktank, the Madras Institute of Development Studies, popularly known as MIDS, has reached out to Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Dr Palanivel Thiagarajan for financial support from the state government.

Dr Thiagarajan was the chief guest to the Institute’s golden jubilee celebrations recently, when the idea was proposed, indicating a reversal from a stand of valued autonomy by the Institution.

The proposal comes in wake of a decade of declining funding for social science research in the country starting right from the crunch at the Indian Council for Social Science Research, the apex body of all social science research institutes in the country, funded by the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development (MHRD). MIDS is among 23 institutes under the ICSSR battling lack of funds, staff and inadequate facilities due to dwindling support from the MHRD.

MIDS is among 23 institutes under the ICSSR battling lack of funds, staff and inadequate facilities due to dwindling support from the MHRD

As early as 2011, the ICSSR’s fourth central review committee  pointed out that the Council and its institutes were poorly funded and this would eventually make them more dependent on state governments, reducing them to state agencies.

Table 1 : Annual account statements of MIDS show the decrease in grants year after year, resulting in declining funds for research as well as running of the institute

The MIDS’ outreach to the Tamil Nadu government is indicative of a clear shift as a press release ahead of the golden jubilee event said the Institute would no longer hold that “small is beautiful”, or deal with agencies at arm’s length and wait endlessly for grants from the centre.

Stellar record
 The MIDS, one of the oldest social science think tanks in the country, is remarkable for its contribution to extensive research, surveys and evidence-based policy-making with special focus on the agro-rural aspects of Tamil Nadu. The Institute has also covered backward sections across the country, emerging as a policy consultant to government agencies as well as non-governmental and external agencies.

The Institute’s impressive ‘portfolio’ includes 180 research projects completed, 220 books, 1,600 research papers published and a library of over 60,000 documents, and 108 journals, according to the ICSSR’s annual report for 20-21.

The MIDS is pioneering a digital library project of digitising rare collections of books, journals and maps of the Anna Centenary library. The Institute is expected to be included in the Humanities across Borders (HAB) second grant cycle, with a scope of institutional intervention in higher education. The HAB is a for consortium of south-south collaboration consisting of 20 academic institutions across the globe.

Also Read: Rs 217 crore — the yearly loss from degrading Pallikaranai marsh

However, the old building that houses the Institute in the leafy suburbs of south Chennai is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of a modern, date-driven research organisation.

The dire situation has been regularly flagged by the Institute, with the then Director noting in 2018 the need to upgrade in range and scale. The 20-21 annual report highlighted the urgency for augmented financial resources to transform MIDS into a key data centre of research, establishing new faculty positions to aid new specialisations like Intellectual property rights, a modern digital library, auditorium and classrooms.

Pandemic impact studies
Despite the severe crunch, the Institute has continued to play its role in informing and guiding state policy. Its Tamil Nadu Covid Pulse Survey (TNCPS) and Tamil Nadu Household Panel survey (TNHPS) studying the impacts of the pandemic, were crucial in framing the state’s response.

Amid the lockdown, the Institute undertook a rapid response telephonic survey once every four months in all 32 districts of the state. In three rounds of surveys, the researchers assessed the impact of the pandemic on a wide range of issues including  income, occupation, reverse migration, food security challenges and the role of welfare schemes, Covid infection, mental health, online education and vaccine hesitancy.

MIDS, one of the oldest social science think tanks in the country, is remarkable for its contribution to extensive research, surveys and evidence-based policy-making with special focus on the agro-rural aspects of Tamil Nadu. (Picture source: MIDS website)

‘On a shoe-string budget’
Describing it as a very liberal institution, with no one questioning its autonomy, Prof. K. Nagaraj, development economist and former faculty member, said MIDS functioned on a shoestring budget.

“Since the ICSSR is being controlled by right-wing ideologues, MIDS gets an image equivalent to a liberal institution. Now they want to change that character,” he added.

The last few years have shown a precipitous decline in ICSSR funding for research, with grants being slashed and sponsored projects virtually disappearing. Fellowship grants of Rs.10 lakh were halved to Rs. 5 lakhs from 2019 and further to a paltry Rs. 99,000 in 2020.

In 2018, 4 MIDS projects had ICSSR sponsorship out of 10 finished research projects and yet only one made it to the next round of ICSSR funding. Of the 6 new research projects, the Tamil Nadu government sponsored 2, the UNICEF, Ford Foundation and MIDS sponsored 1 each.

In 2019, four projects were initiated but the ICSSR sponsored none of them. In 2020, the trend continued: of the four new projects, two were funded by the state government (The Covid pulse surveys), and two others funded by international agencies.

The ICSSR rejected all the proposals sent for approval, sources requesting anonymity told Inmathi. An MIDS project, Managing Covid-19 in India’s cities” was funded by the British Academy and the University of Sheffield.

The drastic reduction in funds has disrupted the maintenance of the library and efforts at digitisation of resources, academic facilities, upgrading of IT infrastructure, research programmes, and publications at the Institute.

Despite it’s mandate, the ICSSR has stopped funding research while it disbursed a meagre annual grant of around Rs. 2 crore, for the functioning of the Institute which are not adequate to meet the running cost of the facility. As a result cuts have been effected in administrative expenses since 2018.

With salaries being inflation indexed and showing a marginal rise, administrative expenses were reduced from Rs.2.9 crore in 2018, to Rs.2 crores in 2019 and further to just Rs.1.4 crores in 2020.

The drastic reduction in funds has disrupted the maintenance of the library and efforts at digitisation of resources, academic facilities, upgrading of IT infrastructure, research programmes, and publications at the Institute.

More disturbingly, following a visit of the ICSSR’s research institute committee in 2018, MIDS has allegedly been charged with overspending the ICSSR grant and Council has demanded repayment of the amount.

The research committee as well as the research institute committee of ICSSR comprising of 5 to 12 members, scrutinises grants for research projects and proposals for financial assistance. The Research Institute Committee included Prof. Rakesh Sinha, Prof. N.K. Taneja, Prof. Amita Singh, Prof. Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, Prof. P. Kanagasabapathi, Prof. Madhu Purnima Kishwar, Swapan Das Gupta, Prof. Rajeev Srinivasan.

“The ICSSR review committee, which visited the Institute in 2018, did not have a Terms of Reference (ToR) which any review committee is supposed to have; and most of them [the members] were Hindutva ideologues. The report was haphazard and was shortly withdrawn after objections were raised,” a source close to the events told Inmathi.

Neither the ICSSR not MIDS responded to questions from Inmathi on the issue.

Skewed to science
Explaining the MoUs between ICSSR institutes and state governments wherein the latter provide a matching grant to the ICSSR funding, Prof.K Nagaraj told Inmathi, “Government funding for education, including that for higher education and research, has been stagnant — or even declining in real terms — over the last couple of decades, particularly with liberalisation. This is  reflected in the financial crunch faced by most of the ICSSR institutes, including MIDS.”

The shifting paradigm of research towards the more monetizable scientific research is evident in the considerably higher amounts allocated to the ICSSR’s sister organisation, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as seen in following table. While the CSIR’s – Council for Science & Industrial Research – annual grants were in the range of 2500 crore rupees, ICSSR received in the fifties and hundreds of crores.

Table 2: The 2020-21 ICSSR annual report on grants to the research institutes indicating inadequacy in grants (ICSSR and respective state governments together) to meet the running cost of the institutes

Dr Jeyaranjan, Vice-Chairman of Tamil Nadu Planning Commission in his keynote speech at the MIDS golden jubilee celebrations stressed that governments are dependent on research institutes like MIDS, especially on their evidence-based policy recommendations which analyse, interpret and summarise data more efficiently than government agencies.

The trend among southern states to support such social science research to improve governance outcomes is evident not just in Tamil Nadu’s sponsorship of MIDS projects but also in Kerala which has doubled its grants to the CDS, also an ICSSR institution.

Despite regime changes in Tamil Nadu, the autonomy and accountability of MIDS has never been compromised, Prof. Nagaraj said.

Also Read: Ambasamudram to CISR: Kalaiselvi to power India’s lithium ion mission

“The economics book drafted by MIDS in the past for the state curriculum was critical of the state and yet they [Tamil Nadu government] allowed it. Usually the ICSSR fund was held constant and did not account for inflation. It was the state which mostly compensated for the deficits despite delayed sanctions and they continued to be liberal even after changes in regime,” he recollected.

However, it is not just lack of financial support that clouds the future of MIDS and its path-breaking research in the social science but also the ICSSR’s control over committees and personnel charged with administering and steering the Institute.

Prof. P. Kanagasabapathi, who is the ICSSR nominee in the Governing council of MIDS, however, denied that funds were being reduced for Institute. A member of the Research Institute Committee, Dr. Kanagasabapathi, is also affiliated to the BJP and sparked controversy after his recent appointment by the Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi as a syndicate member of Bharathiyar University.


Share the Article

Read in : தமிழ்

Is the organic food you buy really organic The revival of mudpot cooking explained Why we always find lots of cashews on top of Deepavali mixture why tangedco need to pay us for damaging household appliances Thandatti know the forgotten story on earlobes