ABHINANDAN MISHRA New Delhi | 31st Jan 2015 – The Sunday Guardian
Questions are being raised by critics in the bureaucracy over the induction of the former chief of Defence Research Development Organization (DRDO) V.K. Saraswat as a full time member of the newly constituted NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Ayog.
Saraswat, who was appointed as the chief of DRDO in August 2009 by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, became the first chief of the DRDO. The DRDO’s financial powers were severely restricted by the Ministry of Defence after an internal audit of the working of the organisation during Saraswat’s tenure pointed out, what were claimed to be financial irregularities. However, it needs to be noted that those close to Saraswat say that such charges were incorrect and that the references made were routine in matters of audit.
According to his critics, the irregularities had come to light after the Comptroller General of Defence Audit (CGDA), raised concerns about research grants and aids given by Saraswat to certain societies headed by scientists. The report had raised questions over Saraswat’s decision to sanction a grant of Rs 288 lakh to Professor V.U. Reddy of C.R. Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (AIMSCS), Hyderabad, a society which was headed by Saraswat himself, for a project on a futuristic radar.
The report had stated that the society was known for its achievements in mathematics, statistics and computer science and “is not even generally connected with research relating to futuristic radars”. The report had also stated that the society, despite not having the necessary equipment to carry out such research, was given the grant. However, others say that Professor Reddy is an outstanding scientist who was fully capable of conducting the research for which the grant was made.
The CGDA had also questioned DRDO’s move to sanction another grant-in-aid project costing Rs 298.17 lakh to another scientist from the same society, S.B. Ra. According to the audit, large grants-in-aids were sanctioned to institutes that did not have the required number of researchers or even basic facilities like computers. However, those supporting Saraswat say that what counts in research is “brains and not simply equipment” and point to Saraswat’s “outstanding record in the missile programme” as evidence of his competence.
The audit had also flagged various DRDO chairs being given to ex-DRDO employees. S.K. Salwan, an ex-laboratory director, was appointed to the Dr B.D. Nag Chaudhari DRDO chair for three years at a cost of Rs 83.06 lakh. Kota Harinarayana, former director of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), a DRDO sponsored society, was awarded the Dr D.S. Kothari-DRDO chair for three years at a cost of Rs 83.064 lakh. As per the audit, no public notice was issued by DRDO, which was being headed by Saraswat at the time, to seek applications for these highly paid positions. However, those close to Saraswat dismiss this as a “technicality” and not indicative of any wrong intention.
Saraswat was considered close to former high profile bureaucrat Pulok Chatterjee, who is known to be a confidant of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. His critics say that he had later mounted an aggressive effort to secure an extension of his service, but the UPA government declined to grant him an extension. Saraswat retired in May 2013.
Last year in September, Saraswat was sentenced to three weeks of imprisonment by the Madras High Court for contempt of court. The court also imposed a fine on him and directed the Centre to initiate stringent action against him for disobedience of the April 2009 orders of the court which had asked the organisation to reinstate a former employee who was terminated from the job.