National / World

Quitting space panel over Nair's blacklisting: Top scientist to PM

Bangalore, Feb 24 (IANS) Eminent scientist Roddam Narasimha, the seniormost member of the Space Commission, has resigned, telling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh he was doing so to protest the blacklisting of former space agency chairman G. Madhavan Nair and three others in the Antrix-Devas spectrum deal.

"I have requested the prime minister to permit me to relinquish my membership of the Space Commission for two reasons in connection with the Antrix-Devas agreement," 78-year-old Narasimha said in a statement here.

Referring to the Jan 13 blacklisting of the four top scientists of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Narasimha said the punitive action could demoralise the scientific community and adversely affect ISRO's ability to take technological initiatives that were the hallmark of an innovative organisation.

"Most ISRO scientists have committed their professional lives to the pursuit of the extraordinary technological challenges posed by a national space programme. Their achievements have brought great credit to the country, and their occasional failures have served only to strengthen their resolve to pursue even more ambitious goals," Narasimha said in his letter.

The 11-member Space Commission is the highest policy-making body in the country directing the Indian space programmes and monitoring the various space application projects of ISRO as its executive wing under the prime minister, who is also in-charge of the space department.

Admitting that there were lapses in the $300-million spectrum contract ISRO's commercial arm Antrix Corporation Ltd signed with the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia Services Ltd Jan 28, 2005, Narasimha said that the inquiry he conducted with former cabinet secretary B.K Chaturvedi as part of the two-member high powered committee found no evidence of short-changing on the spectrum.

"The probe report had recommended various reforms that were needed to ensure the identified lapses did not recur in future. The proposed reforms included some concerning the Space Commission," he pointed out.

On the second reason for quitting, Narasimha said as some of the reforms pertained to the space panel, he felt that it would be appropriate for it to carry them out when he was no longer its member.

"The prime minister has not (as of now) accepted my request," Narasimha observed.

Terming the ISRO a great national asset, he appealed to the prime minister that any action taken should be such as to strengthen the community of the thousands of engineers who make the admired achievements in space possible.

An ISRO official had earlier told IANS that as Narasimha had submitted his resignation letter directly to the Prime Minister's Office, they did not have details on why he decided to quit.

"But we learn that he was perturbed over the government's recent action against the four top space scientists, including Nair," said the official on condition of anonymity.

Nair expressed concern at the development and hoped that the prime minister would prevail upon Narasimha to continue "as his presence is necessary to guide the panel in carrying on the space programmes in the interests of the country".

"As the senior most member of the space panel, Narasimha has been a guiding force for a generation of scientists and assisted the space agency in its various projects," Nair told IANS here.

"It is unfortunate that Narasimha felt compelled to resign in protest against the way the government treated us, ignoring our contribution to the development of space programmes for the benefit of the country. I am not speaking for myself in an individual capacity but as a scientist who has been associated with the space agency for over four decades," Nair asserted.

Contending that Narasimha's resignation would send wrong signals about the space panel's functioning, Nair said the scientific community's morale would be seriously hit if the government allowed him to go for no fault of him.

The prime minister Feb 10, 2011 constituted the high powered review committee (HPRC) of Chaturvedi and Narasimha to review the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the Antrix-Devas agreement, suggest corrective actions and fix responsibility for lapses if any.

The action against the four scientists was, however, taken on the recommendation of the five-member high level team the prime minister set up May 31, 2011 under the chairmanship of former Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha.

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