Department of Space and ISRO: PMO has to bell the cat
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has been grappling with attempts to reform Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Many Parliamentary committees have recommended separation of the post of Secretary Department of Space and Chairman ISRO. Perhaps there is no other organisation in Government of India where a subordinate office controls the main department as it happens in the case of Department of space and ISRO. The result is that ministerial control and parliamentary accountability gets diluted. The chairmanship of the Space Commission under the chairman ISRO has been taken as a virtual Carte Blanche to push it’s own agenda. Seldom are the user departments consulted or a comprehensive review done on where is ISRO vis-a-vis other space faring nations in terms of technologies. A lot many satellites have been launched with 2 to 5 years lag in setting up of ground segments. The recent aborted GISAT-1 launch too falls in the category of disconnect with user departments. The undue weightage given to ISRO vis-a-vis Department of Space has lead to a go-by to procedures, proper project management and monitoring. After all Department of Space is the custodian of procurement and financial control. It is precisely due to these reasons that scandals such as Antrix-Devas happen. Post Devas, a slew of measures were implemented but with the passage of time they have been by-passed or diluted. Department of Space is a pale shadow of itself with a demoralised and sidelined bureaucracy. It is time to bifurcate the top post in ISRO and to codify it’s selection and promotion policy and put it on the net. No institution can grow without public accountability. The same is true of the newly formed directionless New Space India Ltd and Antrix Corporation. The PMO has to bell the cat.