Five months before the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) rejected the appointment of the new director at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), senior scientists at the institute had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raising concerns over the selection process.
HT has excerpts of the letter sent to Modi in September last year, which said the search committee decided on Sandip Trivedi, 52, as the new director “in a very short time-frame”. HT, on March 12, had reported that the PMO had rejected Trivedi’s appointment on technical grounds, a first in the history of the country’s premier scientific research institution.
“In rushing the process, the search committee followed a procedure that was completely ad hoc, not based on broad consultation, and did not respect the needs of the institute community,” reads the letter. Sources said it was in April last year that a three-member search committee, headed by scientist CNR Rao, picked Trivedi as the institute’s new chief.
In the letter, scientists also voiced their reservations on Trivedi’s candidature for the position. “Many of our colleagues gave inputs on the expectations from the new director to the search committee...Unfortunately these inputs were completely ignored.”
Rao was unavailable for comment. KS Kasturirangan, another member of the committee, said, "Talk to the TIFR management. This is an internal matter, and I would not like to comment on it." Both are part of the institute’s Council of Management, which is chaired by industrialist Ratan Tata.
The letter also expressed anguish over the extremely slow pace of progress on the TIFR Hyderabad campus due to “complete absence of governance on part of the present administration.” The letter reinforced the need for a director with a vision for both the institute and faculty.
Scientists pointed out that while it is unacceptable that a bureaucratic body like PMO should have overall control, it’s time the TIFR Council of Management underwent a change in structure. “Senior faculty members must participate in policy making,” said Professor MK Raghunathan, mathematician, who worked at TIFR for 51 years. It is unfortunate that the PMO rejected the appointment, but it’s an opportunity now for a complete restructure of the council.”
HT asked the PMO for a comment on the letter, but did not get a response.