Editor’s note: In July this year, Tapan Misra, who had since early 2015 been the director of the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, was abruptly moved out of his position and made advisor to K. Sivan, the new chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). There was widespread, albeit contested, speculation that Sivan had acted this way after Misra’s opposition to increasing privatisation of the Indian spaceflight programme, because it had something to do with the controversial GSAT-11 satellite mission getting stalled or because of internal politics. One way or the other, Misra’s new role – as advisor – appeared to have been created newly for him, and was seen by insiders as a way to sideline his influence within ISRO and take him out of contention as a potential future chairman. It is in light of this controversy that the following letter, made available in full, was drafted and signed by a group of scientists from around India asking that the president intervene in ISRO’s internal affairs.
The Hon’ble President of India
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 achieve 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 any more.
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, Calcutta of University
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