Monday, January 30, 2012

Space war: Rocket scientists ground Government

Space War: Facing scientists’ fury, govt yields ground
FP Staff Jan 29, 2012

Facing enormous backlash from a galaxy of space scientists over its blacklisting of four scientists, including former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair in a satellite spectrum deal that has since been scrapped, the government appears to be reviewing its punitive action.

The Telegraph reports that the government had signalled its willingness to reconsider the punishment, and quotes V Narayanasamy, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, as saying that “nothing is final”. The government, he added, “has an open mind. If the scientists feel that their views have not been adequately represented, we are willing to look into this again.”

On Saturday, scientists came out swinging against the government decision to blackball the four scientists for their alleged role in the satellite spectrum deal. Madhavan Nair was head of Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian space establishment, when it decided to lease out transponders of two of its satellites to the US-based Devas Multimedia.

The action against the four former ISRO scientists is a drag on scientists' morale. Prof CNR Rao, who heads the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, said the government had “thrown out like garbage” the four scientists who had served the country and ISRO with distinction for years (reports PTI)

“They have not treated corrupt persons in politics, in public life like that. Why have scientists been picked up?” wondered Rao. “Is this the way to treat anybody? Nobody will work for these (government) organisations if this is the way they are treated.”

Rao specifically criticised Narayanasamy for his reported comments that the government had taken punitive action against the four scientists in order to send “a strong message” to the scientific community that no wrongdoing would be tolerated.

Rao said this was no way to talk about scientists. “I don’t know where he (Narayanasamy) got his basic education. I am shocked by the way he was on TV and talking like this about scientists in general.”

Also on Saturday, another former ISRO chairman, UR Rao, said the government’s action against the four scientists – and the public and over-the-top criticism of the scientific community – would impair space scientists’ morale.

Acknowledging that he did not have the full facts of the case, and that he was not keen to get entangled in the controversy, UR Rao nevertheless said that the manner in which it had been handled, with public outbursts against scientists, was ill-advised.

“Whatever is happening is not good for the country,” UR Rao said. “It will affect the morale of all the people. The organisation gets affected. After all, one feels proud of an organisation. If morale goes, it does hamper work.”

Recalling iconic photographs of satellite parts being ferried on bicycles or on bullock carts, UR Rao said that ISRO had a track record of catapulting India, literally, from the “bullock cart age to the space age.” Whereas on average it took 25 years to build a satellite, ISRO scientists had abridged that time to just two-plus years.

Former Knowledge Commission chairman Dr P M Bhargav has also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, expressing displeasure over the blacklisting of Madhavan Nair, saying it reflected a “dictatorial” attitude without any accountability. He wanted the government decision to be put on hold until the committee reports on the satellite spectrum deal were made public.

On Saturday, Madhavan Nair stepped down as chairman of the Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Technology-Patna, saying he was morally bound to give up all government positions following the punitive action
Space War: Facing scientists’ fury, govt yields ground

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