Speakup India: Why bury merit in ISRO

Newsroom24x7 Network

ISRO’s present leadership crisis perhaps could have been avoided had former ISRO chief Kiran Kumar not refused an extension. Now Sivan being given an extension appears to be an internal maneuvering to keep certain distinguished scientists from getting into the leadership race and an attempt to perpetuate mediocrity.

Lalit Shastri, Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7, exposed the leadership crisis in ISRO and warned against maneuvers to drive out distinguished scientists from the leadership race in this prestigious organisation during a free and frank talk on the Newsroom24 Youtube Channel on Sunday 21 February 2021. We are publishing the video transcript.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday 20th February 2021 said: “Many of the restrictions vis-a -vis geospatial data have been lifted. Liberalisation of geospatial data will benefit technology and the startup sector and give the youth the flexibility to work from anywhere, the Prime Minister underscored. He was addressing the NITI Ayog Governing Body.

Union Minister for Atomic Energy and Space, Dr.Jitendra Singh had earlier told Parliament on 10th February that 26 Companies/startups have approached ISRO for technical guidance and facility sharing for their space activity. On the issue of whether Indian telecom service providers or manufacturers have started using the home built GPS system, Singh told Parliament that Major mobile chipset manufacturers (Qualcomm, Mediatek) have released NavIC enabled mobile processors that were a mandatory requirement. The point to be noted is that it is only now that the Government of India has informed Parliament that NavIC capability have been released in the Indian market. This has been followed up by the Prime Minister announcing that the long awaited Geospatial data related restrictions also have now been lifted.  

The ISRO Annual Report 2019-20 says on page 49, “the entire ground segment and its components have been established and the segment is operational”. Even in terms of the user segment, the ISRO report said that with the satellite constellation established, the NavIC is now fully available for position navigation.
Regarding NavIC capability, question arises, why this delay in fully utilising the Space Segment which consists of eight satellites-three in geostationary orbit and five in inclined geosynchronous orbit. These satellites have been launched over a span of many years and they have a limited life-span. The issue is why the full potential of these satellites has not been utilised from the day they were put in orbit. The problem vis-a-vis the communication satellites gets compounded further by the fact that ISRO has not met a large part of its commitments to the Government of India’s user departments.

A lot of the delay when it comes to meeting the goals and objectives of India’s space programme are directly linked to the ISRO leadership.

According to ISRO insiders, Dr K Sivan, the ISRO Chairman, who has recently got a prolonged extension in service, has never built any flight hardware. He was involved in Mission software simulation for routine prediction of launch trajectory. He has no patent to his credit. He hardly has any publication. He was also not involved in any project management job except once as Project Director of GSAT F06 that too ended in the worst failure in ISRO’s history.  GSAT F06 exploded just above SHAR on 24th December 2010. Along with it was lost precious communication satellite GSLV F06 carrying GSAT 5P (24 Ku band and 12 extended C band transponder) as replacement of aging INSAT 3E.  No inquiry was conducted into this disaster and consequently responsibility also was not fixed.

Those in knowledgeable circles are also pointing their finger at what they call the Devas-ISRO mafia that weakened the standing of the then ISRO Chairman Dr. K Radhakrishnan as a result of what they describe as deliberate sabotage and destruction of GSLV in 2010 thereby forcing Radhakrishnan to listen to the Devas men and the recommendation of the one-man committee under BN Suresh, who is known in ISRO circles as Sivan’s Godfather, who gave a report on DEVAS deal and based on this report, the deal was nullified on 24th Jan 2012, paving the way for DEVAS to file for compensation. It is entirely a different matter that the Government of India has now taken steps to close the Devas compensation chapter by seeking to nullify the company’s registration. On Devas issue, what needs to be underscored is that everyone, including Kasturirangan had favoured Devas.

The Chandrayaan 2 fiasco is another big failure staring the present ISRO chairman in the face.
Matters did not end at this, everyone in ISRO is raging over what insiders are describing as backdoor recruitment of K Sivan’s son as Engineer/Scientist “SC” in Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre of ISRO in a hurried manner just before Sivan got a one year extension of service beyond January 14, 2021.

Sivan is also in the midst of a major controversy these days for inviting Pixxel, a company formed by two young Indian engineers and registered in the US to launch their satellite through ISRO’s PSLV-C51. Within days of Pixxel entering into a formal collaboration with NewSpace India Limited, ISRO announced that Pixxel’s first satellite Anand will be launched through PSLV-C51 tentatively scheduled for take off on February 28th 2021. On the pretext of carrying forward the Government of India policy to encourage startups and the Atmnirbhar Bharat programme, ISRO, through NewSpace India Limited, entered into a deal with Pixxel, an American company, that was about to launch its satellite through the Russian Soyuz and invited them to use  PSLV at a much subsidised rate. This was even objected to by the Member Finance, Department of Space, since Pixxel was a foreign company. At this stage, attempts are being made to bring Pixxel on board PSLV again through the backdoor by entertaining “Syzygy Space Technologies Pvt Ltd”, a company registered in Bangalore as a subsidiary of some “Foreign Company” by the founders of Pixxel –  without this company having any track record as a  “start-up” at least in the form of a proper facility to build a satellite in India.

ISRO’s present leadership crisis perhaps could have been avoided had former ISRO chief Kiran Kumar not refused an extension. Now Sivan being given an extension appears to be an internal maneuvering to keep certain distinguished scientists from getting into the leadership race and an attempt to perpetuate mediocrity.


  1. The vision of eminent people like Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan and Prof. U R Rao brought the focus in the Indian space programme. Their commitment and achievements moved the organisation towards national development and pride to India. Its people like Dr. Sivan and Dr A K Patra (NARL) are spoiling the great name of the organisation (ISRO) due to their favoritism/nepotism/group-ism activities. The backdoor recruitment of their favorable people appears small but damages the image of Department of space when exposed to the public.



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