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NEW DELHI: A group of eminent scientists from across the country has appealed to President of India against alleged political intervention in the prestigious Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Seeking President Ram Nath Kovind’s intervention in the matter, they wrote: “These institutions have contributed significantly to nation building precisely because they were largely kept insulated from narrow and constricted political interference and manipulations.”

They have written in the wake of the abrupt transfer of Tapan Misra, Director of the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, as advisor to K. Sivan, the new chairman of ISRO. It is said that Misra is among opponents of likely privatization of ISRO and his new low designation as ‘advisor’, said to be newly created for him, will take him out of contest as a potential future chairman.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced strong criticism from the Opposition for alleged political intervention in various key institutions of the country, including the judiciary and media.

Text of the Letter:

The Hon’ble President of India

Dear Sir,

We have read the report of a motivated and politically engineered transfer of Tapan Misra, an ISRO scientist, in a section of media, with utmost concern. One of the newspapers reported that “officials said his appointment as an adviser to the present chairman practically edges him out of the race to head the space agency. … It is a consultative post, not an executive one. The chairman has always been selected from the pool of executive directors. Besides, such a post never existed in the organisation before”. Neither the Government of India nor ISRO has responded to these reports. Considering the importance of excellence that we have achieved in space research, the nation awaits an official clarification.

The media also reported that Misra has been transferred to ISRO Headquarters, for two reasons: first, because he had opposed delay in a project, and second, because of he opposes the move to privatise ISRO. If this is true, then the act of transferring Misra will cause widespread demotivation among scientific community as it constitutes a strong signal to scientists to either align their views with the political powers of the day, or else be prepared to migrate elsewhere if they want to practice independent scientific enquiry. Scientific excellence would seem not to matter anymore.

We do not view this as an isolated incident. We as a nation have built, ISRO, Atomic Energy Commission, CSIR, DRDO, IARI, and a galaxy of other applied research establishments with a culture of stability, freedom to pursue research and to participate in international collaborations. The nation has looked at these great scientific institutions, created during the past 70 years, with hope and respect. The people of India are convinced that these scientific institutions have been the bedrock of much development and have brought laurels to the nation.

We believe that these institutions have contributed significantly to nation building precisely because they were largely kept insulated from narrow and constricted political interference and manipulations. History all around the world has shown that science progresses through freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom to fearlessly explore uncharted terrain.

Moreover, the progress of science also requires an environment of scientific temperament. Science cannot be conducted successfully in a society that does not respect science or the scientific community. It is our constitutional duty as citizens of India to “develop and promote the scientific temper”, as per Article 51 A(h) of our Constitution, which is, of course, also binding on your government.

In the recent past, we have witnessed not only interference in scientific institutions but also a sustained series of attacks on scientific temper. Many who hold positions of constitutional responsibility in your government, have issued unscientific statements based on personal beliefs. We strongly feel that between acts of interference, punitive actions and motivated appointments on the one hand, and creating a hostile atmosphere against spreading scientific temper among the public at large, on the other, will have far reaching consequences detrimental to the national progress.

We solicit your urgent intervention.

  1. Mewa Singh, Distinguished Professor (for Life), and J.C. Bose Fellow University of Mysore
  2. Shyamal Chakarvarti, Professor, University of Calcutta
  3. Wasi Haider Former, Chairman, Department of Physics, AMU, Aligarh
  4. E. Harbabu, Former Pro VC, University of Hyderabad
  5. Irfan Habib, Former Professor and Scientist, NUPA
  6. Subodh Mahanti Former Director, Vigyan Prasar
  7. Gauhar Raza, Former Chief Scientist, CSIR, India,
  8. PVS Kumar, Former Senior Scientist, CSIR
  9. Dinesh Abrol, Former Chief Scientist, CSIR
  10. Amitabh Joshi, Evolutionary Biologist, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research
  11. K. Kannan Retired Professor (Biotechnology), Former Vice Chancellor, Nagaland University
  12. Jay Prakash Convener, Bhopal Gas Tragedy Movement, Delhi Science Forum
  13. Aniket Sule, Reader, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai
  14. R.D. Rikhari, Former Editor, Invention Intelligence, NRDC
  15. Amitabh Pandey, Amateur Astronomer, Consultant Vigyan Prasar
  16. Parthiv Basu, Professor, University of Calcutta
  17. Ahmar Raza, Former Adviser, Ministry of Alternative Energy
  18. Gautam Gango Paadhya, Professor, University of Calcutta
  19. Surjit Singh, Expert Public Understanding of Science, NISTADS, CSIR
  20. Kausar Wizarat, Former Asst. Prof. NUEPA
  21. Ashok Jain, Former Director, NISTADS, CSIR
  22. R.S. Dahiya, Retd. Senior Professor Surgery University of Hissar, Rohtak
  23. Deepak Verma, Science Documentary Producer
  24. Rakesh Andania, Science Documentary Producer
  25. A.K. Arun, Public Health Activist, Health Education Art Life Foundation
  26. Prem Pal Sharma, Science Writer, Retd. Ministry of Railways
  27. Satish Kalra, Retired professor, Veterinary Microbiology, CCS, Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar
  28. M.S. Narwal, Sr. Scientist, Retd., Haryana Agricultural University

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