Defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Wednesday the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief’s term was cut short on his recommendation as the government wanted someone younger to man the key post and not a retiree on contract.
A day after the controversial sacking of Avinash Chander, the country’s top military scientist, the defence minister said senior positions should not be held by officials hired under contract.
“We will find out someone good from the DRDO, who has the urge for development … We should introduce a slightly younger generation in the scientific world,” Parrikar told reporters, when asked about Chander’s successor.
He added that a senior scientist would be given charge temporarily.
Aeronautics head K Tamilmani and missiles and strategic systems chief VG Sekaran are currently number two and three in the DRDO.
The appointments committee of the cabinet (ACC) approved the termination of Chander’s contract with effect from January 31, a good 16 months before it was to end.
Chander, 64, may have only 17 days left in the hot seat but he’s still focused on India’s strategic missile programme, which he helped shape. Hours after receiving his exit order, the outgoing DRDO chief told HT exclusively, “I don’t have much time left but my priority will be to ensure that we conduct the third test of the Agni-V missile before January 31.”
This will be the 5,000-km range missile’s first canister launch aimed at injecting more mobility and flexibility into the weapon system.
“Early induction will boost the military’s capabilities. The test will be a crucial step towards the missile’s induction and will enhance our strategic deterrence considerably,” said the man behind the Agni series of missiles, whose existing variants can hit targets at ranges of 700 km to 3,500 km.
It will be critical for Chander’s successor to keep the induction of the 4,000-km range Agni-IV and 5,000-km Agni-V missiles on schedule.
Chander’s exit comes at a time when the DRDO has been under fire for delays and cost overruns in key military programmes, with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashing out at the organisation over its failure to deliver.
The government had on Tuesday put up the exit order on the department of personnel and training website even before informing Chander, who was told of his unceremonious removal by HT.
The defence minister recommended his sacking but learnt of the ACC decision through the media. Parrikar is not a part of the PM-headed ACC.
Parrikar said Chander’s tenure ended last November, and he was granted an extension for 18 months on contract following an order by the previous government.
The Congress, however, gave its own spin to his dismissal with party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi tweeting: “Avinash Chandar pays price for inability to toe line on ‘Make in India’ (MAI) campaign? Can anyone press button & do MAI in defence instantly?”