The Department of Space, headed by Secretary and Chairman ISRO K. Sivan, has sent the proposal to appoint P Kunhikrishnan as chairman Indian National Space Promotion & Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).
Kunhikrishnan, third senior most in ISRO, was given apex scale and moved to the Space Commission recently. In this way, he superceded the senior-most distinguished scientist in ISRO after Sivan, who has also been denied Apex scale.
Also it is learnt that two posts of Additional Secretary – one for IN-SPACe, and one for international cooperation; 2 posts of Joint Secretary (Projects and Legal) have been sanctioned. With such a heavy bureaucracy, one can draw the inference that this will be the beginning of the end of ISRO as there is already a growing feeling among a few distinguished scientists that merit is being sidelined in the organisation.
For the knowledge of common people, proposals for appointments and postings at this level involve discussions at the PMO level.
The Appointments committee of the Cabinet earlier comprised of the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister. It used to be by circulation. Now it is the Prime Minister alone. The PM being in charge of Department of Space will see the proposal only once in the ACC. According to those in knowledgeable circles there is no discussion in ACC – now or ever before.
According to Department of Space insiders, the idea is to give Kunhikrishnan, who is due for retirement in June 2021, an extension and make him the next ISRO Chairman. Sources have also revealed that the ISRO leadership issue for now has already been settled at the highest level and it has been decided to give Sivan further extension of 1 year till 14 January 2022.
Sivan has played his cards very well with the PMO. Surely it is game set and match for him. If one were to draw a parallel, we have the case of Kiran Kumar, former Chairman of ISRO, in sharp contrast, he had turned down the offer of extension.
ISRO insiders, especially distinguished scientists, who were looking forward to change of guard now will have to settle for status quo. Some of them are even wondering what will happen to navigation, communication and remote sensing satellites and people wonder if it is the end of the civilian earth observation programmes and societal applications. The private sector is a long way away from plugging the gaps in ISRO.
Besides the need to fill the gaps in remote sensing and communication satellites, the performance audit of ISRO’s payloads and satellites is required by an independent agency
Now ISRO is talking of manned space flight, but what about the huge gaps – who will fill these?