Editorial India SciTech

Department of Space and ISRO: PMO has to bell the cat

Lalit Shastri

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.


  1. S K Das. The comments above betray the ignorance of the person about how ISRO really works and how the present administrative configuration has been useful. A remarkable feature of ISRO’s organizational form is the placing of all activities relating to the space programme such as policy information, R&D, product development, project execution, the responsibility for delivering operational space services to the users and marketing, under one single organization led by a single person with unitary authority. The responsibility for the overall implementation of India’s space programme which is executed through a complex network of centres, projects, industries, research institutes and NGOs, is vested in a single person who is held accountable both for the outputs and outcomes. This has been very effective in combining various decision-making levels – technical, managerial, administrative and policy-making – thus cutting down delays. In the process, integration has been guaranteed and conflicts minimized. This has contributed constructively to the evolution of an integrated space programme in a rapid manner with limited resources. Regards.


    1. S.K. Das, who apparently is the person who had served in ISRO/DoS for several years as Joint Secretary, Additional Secretary and Member Finance, and was a Director on the Antrix Board when the infamous Devas deal was approved, has clearly missed the point.

      A unitary command was alright as long as ISRO was in the R&D mode but now ISRO has hit a plateu and is in a hybrid mode part R&D and part production and it has kind of hit a road block.

      The author of this article has gone through reports of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology chaired by Ashwani Kumar which is more or less on the same line as that taken by the author. The Chaturvedi committee report on Antrix-Devas deal also underscores that division of powers was not adequate which led to lax control by virtue of one person holding many posts and there was complete failure of checks and balances. Such a scam could be pulled off because the Chairman ISRO and Secretary Department of Space (DoS) was also Chairman Antrix and Chairman Space Commission. In the Atomic Energy Department such a seperation has been long practiced with director BARC and Chairman Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) being two different persons. It is precisely this argument of being on mission mode which is stunting the growth of ISRO. It is time to seperate R&D from production. ISRO should remain an R&D, design and quality authority. Licencing, regulation, finance, external relations and treaties should be with DoS, and industry – mainly the Private Sector – should take care of production and in future also design, manufacture, launch satellites (at a later stage) and provide a host of other services.


      1. Yes I agree with Lalit. It’s time ISRO
        separates R&D and Production & Operations. These groups need different skill sets. ISRO has to move to the next phase as innovation in Space Technology is moving at a great pace, need group focusing on it, and distracted by day to day operation. Need an operational entity which focuses on commercial aspects . Dr Bala Kumble


  2. yes. Lalit ji, i tend to agree with you. ISRO has grown and now has multifarious responsibilities. its but right that the organisational structure needs to evolve as per the growing need.


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