‘Scientists should be accountable’

February 6th, 2012 - 9:33 pm ICT by IANS  

ISRO Bangalore, Feb 6 (IANS) India’s scientific community should learn to deal with public accountability while doing business with the private sector to avoid a repeat of the controversial Antrix-Devas deal, a top official said Monday.

“Our scientists should learn to deal with public accountability and in doing business with the private sector, though it is equally important for the government to handle them with sensitivity, considering their contribution to the country,” Biotechnology Secretary M.K. Bahn told reporters here on the margins of a conference.

Noting that the process of making judgements on public-private parternships (PPP) should be rational, Bahn said there was no need for scientists to get over excited or disheartened by the fallout of the spectrum deal which resulted in the government barring four top space scientists from holding official posts after their indictment by a high-level probe team.

“It is wrong to say morale of the scientific community had taken a beating in light of the spectrum deal. There is no controversy over it (deal), which has been sensationalised (by the media). Of course, the rift over the deal shows a way for us to learn on how to handle PPP models,” Bahn said at the 12th edition of Bangalore Bio conference-cum-expo.

Admitting that majority of scientists lacked the knowledge of doing business with the private sector, especially through PPP, the secretary said collaboration of scientific institutions and academia with the industry had assumed significance for converting technologies and innovations into products and services for the masses in a market-oriented economy.

“We have to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the industry in the larger interests of the country. We need to adopt best practices for doing PPP projects as the private sector had been coming forward to contribute in a big way. It is the government’s responsibility to oversee the collaboration between scientists and the industry succeeds,” Bahn observed.

Declining to comment on the Devas deal or the way the four space scientists were treated by the government, Bahn said it was important for the scientific community to learn from the mistakes made by individual scientists, however unintentional.

“As the processes and audit systems suited for PPP models were yet to mature, we need a separate yardstick to judge the issues involved. The government and scientists should work together and sort out all such issues amicably across the board,” Bahn added.

Following the indictment of the four space scientists, including former state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman G. Madhavan Nair for their questionable role in the $300-million spectrum deal by a five-member high-level probe team headed by former Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Prityush Sinha, the government Jan 13 debarred them from holding any official posts.

The other three scientists are are former scientific secretary A. Bhaskarnarayana, ISRO’s former satellite centre director K.N. Shankara and former Antrix Corporation executive director K.R. Sridharamurthi.

The government scrapped the Antrix-Devas deal in February 2011 after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimated a revenue loss of Rs.2-lakh crore (Rs.2 trillion) to the exchequer if the operator (Devas) was allowed to use the allotted 70MHz of the scarce S-band spectrum for digital services using ISRO’s transponders from its proposed GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A satellites.

The prime minister, who is also incharge of the Department of Space, had set up the Sinha team May 31, 2011 to study the report of the two-member high-powered committee headed by former cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi and Space Commission member Roddam Narasimha and fix responsibility for the alleged violation of norms in the spectrum deal.

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