In a first, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has rejected the appointment of the new director at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) on technical grounds.
While scientists have termed this government interference, sources said this is the first time in the history of TIFR, the country’s premier scientific research institution, that a director’s appointment has been vetoed by the PMO.
“It has happened,” scientist CNR Rao, chairman of the search committee and Bharat Ratna, told HT over phone from Bangalore.
There was no response from the PMO despite repeated messages sent by HT and officials at TIFR refused to comment.
In January, theoretical physicist Sandip Trivedi, 52, took over as the institute’s new director after professor Mustansir Barma, the previous director, completed his tenure in December. Trivedi is the recipient of prestigious awards, including the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in The Physical Sciences, CSIR, Government of India, 2005, and Infosys Prize in Physical Sciences, 2010.
“Never has it happened that the PMO has rejected a name. In fact, the PMO in the past has even accepted the appointment of Barma’s predecessor – professor Sabyasachi (Shobo) Bhattacharya –who had worked in the US for three decades and therefore was a complete outsider,” said a TIFR scientist, requesting anonymity.
Rao said a similar episode happened with the appointment of a head at the Bangalore-based
Jawaharlal Nehru for Advanced Scientific Research (JNASR) that he founded. “There has been no
director [at JNASR] for more than a year. They [PMO] want us to repeat the whole process in terms of advertising the vacancy and taking permissions from the government. The same thing is happening with TIFR,” said Rao.
He added that it was a “good” search committee that also comprised K Kasturirangan, member (science) planning commission, and Srikumar Banerjee, former chairperson of Atomic Energy Commission. “But the PMO has not accepted the appointment. We have our own rules [referring to TIFR and JNASR]. Restarting the whole selection process [at TIFR] will take six to eight months,” said Rao.
The appointment of a new director is a well-oiled process. The TIFR Council of Management chaired by industrialist Ratan Tata sets up a search committee to select a new head. The committee comprises eminent scientists, who shortlist candidates not necessarily from the institute or the atomic energy establishment. As per TIFR bye-laws, a director is appointed by invitation by the Council with the approval of the central government, Maharashtra government and the trustees. After selecting the candidate, the name is sent to the PMO for its approval.
“This week, I will write to the Prime Minister about many things, including new rules and practices that are coming in the way. I hope the PM will look into the matter,” said Rao.