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Despite Govt Push, HRD's Social Science Research Project Fails to Utilise Funds Worth Crores

Despite Govt Push, HRD's Social Science Research Project Fails to Utilise Funds Worth Crores

ICSSR is the project implementing agency of IMPRESS (Impactful Policy Research in Social Sciences) with Rajiv Khera, who has a vigilance inquiry pending against him, being tasked with a role in its implementation.

New Delhi: The Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry’s research project on social science has failed miserably to utilise funds allocated to it since its first call.

The Indian Council of Social Science and Research (ICSSR) is the project implementing agency of IMPRESS (Impactful Policy Research in Social Sciences) with Rajiv Khera, who has a vigilance inquiry pending against him, being tasked with an administrative role in its implementation. The total cost of the project is Rs 414 crore till March 2021 and 1,500 research projects are targeted to be awarded.

Documents with News18 have revealed only funds worth over Rs 17.07 crore has been spent for the financial year 2018-19 against the allocation of Rs 107.75 crore. This is 15.84% of the total utilisation. Similarly, a little over Rs 39.40 crore has been spent during 2019-20 against the allocation of Rs 200.50 crore. (19.65% utilisation).

An ICSSR official told News18 that as the scheme made its progress, funds utilisation is expected to grow. At the time of the launch of the scheme, the then HRD minister Prakash Javadekar had said, “A country achieves prosperity on a sustainable basis only through innovation which can happen only by good research and which is currently a major focus area of the government.”

When News18 sought a reply from ICSSR member secretary VK Malhotra in this regard, a reponse via email from his office said, “ICSSR makes all possible efforts to expedite and complete the process at its end, but project-affiliating universities/institutes take a lot of time in sending required documents, bank details, including PFMS details. In this connection, we have correspondence with awardees and institutes. We try to utilise the funds as efficiently as possible.”

A representative of ICSSR said, “The actual utilisation of funds depends on the completion of review process, approval of the projects by the steering committee, completion of required documents by awardees and their affiliating institutions, and recommended and approved budget for all these projects separately.” The budget for the projects is proposed by applicants. Following a rigorous interactive process, reviewers and experts recommend a budget for the proposal.

“ICSSR has presented its estimates of utilisation against the first call and also projected estimates against the second call before the steering committee. We will be trying to achieve the projected utilisation. As the scheme progresses, utilisation is expected to grow because other installments would also become due with the progress of the studies,” said Malhotra’s office.

A senior HRD official said, “Normally, the research projects take more time for using funds, unlike infrastructure projects. This is not surprising or alarming.”

The First Call

The first call of IMPRESS was launched on October 25, 2018, and received applications till November 30. Thereafter, the first phase that included blind peer reviews of the proposals, followed by interaction with the shortlisted candidates and preparation of merits was completed within three months.

A meeting of the highest decision-making body of IMPRESS — the steering committee — took place on February 25, 2019. As many as 269 proposals were approved with a budget of Rs 21.98 crore at the meeting. Accordingly, the first installment of 40% against the approved projects was issued against complete documents of awardees.

At the time, the steering committee had noted the problems related to reviews and decided the remaining part of the first call could be completed in April and May. “Since, the Lok Sabha elections were underway, the steering committee meeting could be held only in June, which again approved 470 projects with a budget of Rs 34.86 crore of which again, the first installment of 40% was issued on completion of all relevant documents,” said the ICSSR official.

Rajiv Khera’s Role Despite Vigilance Inquiry

Khera was earlier appointed officiating director of planning and administration despite a pending vigilance inquiry against him. In 2013, the HRD Ministry had issued an advisory to keep Khera, a systems analyst-cum-senior programmer, out of financial and administrative roles.

In October 2018, he was asked to coordinate the website’s development, its operation and administration, computer evaluation process, result and computer monitoring system. He is to be assisted by system analyst Pushkar Pathak.

Regarding the vigilance cases against Khera, the ICSSR official said, “He was asked to be moved away from any additional administrative responsibility till conclusion of fact-finding inquiry committee and that happened in 2012.”

“On the basis of another committee’s recommendation in August, 2016 the disciplinary authority had decided to issue an advisory to Khera. The matter had been cleared at the level of the highest authority of ICSSR and the action taken had been intimated to the ministry in December 2016,” said the ICSSR official.