ISRO-Devas Deal update – my take

Looking at various news items today it seems that former ISRO Chairman, Madhavan Nair continues to attack individuals for blaming him in relation to the ISRO-Devas deal. Here he hits out against V Narayanaswamy, a Union Minister. This is after he hit out at his colleague and current ISRO Chairman, K Radhakrishnan.

On January 11, Deccan Chronicle carried an article stating that the former ISRO Chairman had written a letter to protest of the fact that a Committee looking into the Devas deal had not followed “due process” in submitting that report. Later, The Indian Express on January 25 reported that former ISRO Chairman Madhavan Nair, former Scientific Secretary, A Bhaskarnarayana; former Managing Director, Antrix Corporation, K R Sridharmurthi and former ISRO Satellite Center chief, K N Shankara have been barred from holding office in the ISRO-Devas deal. Jaimon Joseph has written out some of the intricacies of that case in this blog post. That post also has this article by R Ramachandran which is worth linking to and reading about.

These are the salient points of the event so far. I don’t think that Madhavan Nair and the others named in that order should have been dealt in the way they were. They should not have heard of such an order from the press. The order came out in January 13. The Indian Express report came out on January 25. The Government seems to have sufficient time to convey this order to the people whom it was brought out against. I think the whole affair could have been handled in a different way, given the stature of the people the order sought to take action against.

Madhavan Nair losing his composure given a newspaper report is surprising. The way he hit out at these people seems unnatural and seems to point to some frustration that he nurtures. However, being a scientist of his stature, he is also responsible for his actions in the public sphere – especially on television. In this context, I can understand the scientists reaction attacking Madhavan Nair for reacting the way he did.

Reacting in this way, without having an official copy of the order and basing it on a newspaper report was a mistake that Madhavan Nair made. The others named in the order maintained this stance better even under pressure from the media for quotes. Today, Sridharmurthy ventured a little more but was more speculation.

The ISRO Chairman, Dr Radhakrishnan’s silence at this point is to be criticised. Even if not to retort against Madhavan Nair’s outburst, I think it was his responsibility to clear the air on bringing out the Devas Report and providing the basis for the action taken against such reputed scientists. This is a situation somewhat akin to Dr Manmohan Singh’s silence at various junctures in the Government cases. I think Dr. Radhakrishnan could also come out on what procedures would be followed by the organisation for something as valuable as the S-band frequencies that India seems to have lost out on.

To conclude, I think the Department of Space and Dr. Radhakrishnan must table the report. I also think Madhavan Nair must pen his thoughts rather than blurt them out on the television. I think the television media has taken some of his comments out of context and might hurt him in the long run. I think the other scientists have conducted themselves extremely well. I hope they too can pen their thoughts on this somewhere. I hope at least now the order is sent out to these scientists so that they can read them and not continue to hear about them from “media sources” or see copies of this order. I also think we need to spare a thought for the employees at ISRO who are passing through a critical phase and I really hope morale does not fail. ISRO is a great institution and I hope that like in a mission failure, it does a critical review of itself and emerges better from this whole controversial environment, it finds itself in.

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