Indian Space research Organisation, popularly known as ISRO, continues to be in news for some time now, especially due to the ambitious Chandrayaan-2 Mission.
The main objectives of the Chandrayaan-2 Vikram Lander were to demonstrate the ability to soft-land on the lunar surface and operate a robotic rover on the Moon surface to explore the “unexplored South Pole of the Moon”. The primary purpose of this mission, according to ISRO” was to “expand the lunar scientific knowledge through detailed study of topography, seismography, mineral identification and distribution, surface chemical composition, thermo-physical characteristics of top soil and composition of the tenuous lunar atmosphere, leading to a new understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon”.
Unfortunately moments before landing on 7 September 2019, all signals from the Lander had stopped and till now there is no trace of the Vikram Lander.
During the moment of failure, when gloom had descended at the Control facility at the ISRO headquarters, K Sivan, the ISRO Chairman, had wept and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had consoled him while stating that failure should not disappoint as the road to success, when it comes to scientific advancement, is marked by failure and the human ability and determination helps in charting the course of success.
Notwithstanding the words of encouragement from the Prime Minister when ISRO had failed completely in meeting the principal objective of Chandrayaan-2 Mission, the ISRO chief lost no time and went about telling the media that the Mission was 98% successful.
98% success gimmick
Prior to the Lander’s scheduled “soft landing on Moon”, Sivan also tried to build up his image using his media managers to project himself as a poor farmer’s son. But this gambit failed as many poor farmer’s sons and daughters in ISRO started giving interviews. He was so sure of success that he built up a crescendo. When things failed he lied to the nation and the Prime Minister that lander was intact and only communication had been lost. Whereas, ISRO insiders have revealed that actually the Lander had hit the lunar surface at the speed of jet aircraft and probably broken into small pieces beyond recognition. In this backdrop, Sivan had tried to claim that Lander had a hard landing and it had also been imaged and was intact. Though he never released a photograph. When NASA images started raising doubts regarding his claims, he started playing the 98% success gimmick. When he was caught pants down with his empty claim, he started posing as a simple scientist who flies in Indigo in cattle class, not in business class. It is to be noted that Indigo domestic flights have no business class. In reality, he insists on flying in business class whenever business class is available, including during foreign trips, which he never misses.
There is sharp resentment against Sivan’s working as ISRO chief. It is being said that he just cannot tolerate bright colleagues and that he has destroyed the work culture of ISRO by demolishing the middle level leadership. It has been revealed that he almost transferred around 100 engineers in the name of reorganising ISRO HQ. He has been charged of replacing capable leadership with his henchmen who will do his bidding. He has appointed 4 directors of IPRC, LPSC, IISU and SDSC with the paramount qualification – they belong to the same community to which he belongs.
In his quest for usurping all the credit of Chandrayan-2 and perhaps also to grab the Padma award, he had delayed the Chandrayaan-2 programme by two years though all the elements were ready in early 2017. The delay was to ensure the two main architects – Mylswamy Annadurai, who is called the Moon Man due to the success of Chandrayaan 1 in 2008, was retired and the director Space Application Centre was thrown out and given an innocuous posting.
Sivan saw to it that Annadurai was not given an extension of tenure though he had extended tenures of many less qualified persons like Diwakar and Nageswar Rao. He even instructed his colleagues not to attend Annadurai’s farewell. Even Sivan himself did not bother to attend it nor did he invite Annadurai to witness Lander’s landing on Moon on 7 September 2019.
In order to justify the delay, the cryogenic engine earmarked for Chandrayaan-2 was burnt down by 30 % overdrive against specification of 10%; its weight was unnecessarly increased to justify change of launcher from GSLV Mk II to Mk III; the configuration of Chandrayaan-2 Lander was changed from 4 thrusters to 5 thrusters, which finally led to its failure.
There was a feeling among ISRO leadership that Modi will lose 2019 election and in place a new government will come. So in place of giving credit of Chandrayaan-2 to an “outgoing PM”, they wanted to gift Chandrayaan-2 to the new Government and a new PM. So they made all excuses to delay the launch beyond election. They thought they will placate the new Government and get mercy in criminal cases. But unfortunately, for these people Narendra Modi became the PM again. Now there was a rush to placate Modi but unfortunately the Lander became a failure.
Inquiries have revealed that Sivan had tried to stall indigenous High Throughput Satellite HTS GSAT 11, a brain child of the Director, Space Application Centre . The aim of recalling GSAT 11 from launch pad in Kourou in French Guiana was to get it destroyed and bringing in Hughes make Jupiter HTS in the same slot at a huge cost and huge national security risk. As the Director SAC had opposed the recalling of GSAT 11 from French Guiana without any valid technical reason, he was removed from post of Director, SAC and was replaced by DK Das.
As no fault could be found, to save face Sivan was forced to launch GSAT 11 by Dec 2018 by Arianespace. But it extracted a huge price by forcing ISRO to launch two satellites, GSAT 31 and 32 at a cost of Rs. 950 crore. If they were launched by GSLV, the cost would have been Rs. 400 crore.
ISRO insiders point out that Sivan was installed by DEVAS lobby or gang (as they call it). It comprised of MG Chandrashekhar of DEVAS (MGC), and former Chairmen of ISRO Kasturi Rangan, who is also called the Godfather of MGC, and Kiran kumar (MGC’s nephew). It is alleged that the Devas lobby saw to it that ISRO loses the Antrix-DEVAS case by putting forward a weak defense and employing lawyers not capable of the task. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) tribunal at The Hague in 2016 had found that the action of “annulling a contract between Devas and Antrix and denying Devas commercial use of S-band spectrum constituted an expropriation” by the Government of India was illegal. the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration (ICA) had earlier ruled against Antrix, for “unlawfully terminating” Devas-Antrix agreement in 2011, and had directed Antrix to pay $672 million plus an annual interest at 18 per cent post award.
This looks like a neat swindle game by successive chairmen of ISRO. In this swindle Sivan played master role. He even tried to take control of DEVAS papers from ANTRIX by unsuccessfully trying to dislodge its CMD and closing down ANTRIX.
A set of criminal investigations of grave defalcation and criminal actions also are going on in ISRO . These are apart from the DEVAS case.
Sivan is known in ISRO circles as “Kejriwal of ISRO”. He gained promotions riding on other shoulders and then junking them as he climbed the ladders of promotion. He was project director of only one GSLV mission which exploded over SHAR on 24 Dec 2010. People say, he fails wherever he is involved.
Postscript: Sivan could have called Annadurai for review when Chandrayaan-2 Lander failed.
Regarding the Antrix-Devas case, it should be noted that MG Chandrasekhar attended former Director U R Rao Satellite Centre (URSC) Sivakumar’s funeral on 13 April this year where he met Sivan, Kiran Kumar and others. This was not reported to the Government or the CBI. He has been evading CBI and ED summons but even a simple look out notice has not been issued. He keeps travelling in and out of India from the USA. Sivan also is in direct regular contact with Madhavan Nair and is manauvering for out of court settlement in the Devas-Antrix case.
The author, Lalit Shastri, is Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7.com