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Dr Saraswat, as former chief of DRDO has been also red-flagged by the Comptroller General of Defence Audit-CGDA over his several decisions that resulted in the Defence Ministry curtailing his financial powers
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) appointed Dr VK Saraswat as full-time member of newly established National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog. Dr Saraswat is former Secretary of Defence (Research & Development- R&D), but is more known as one of the high profile former chiefs of Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). However, his inning at the DRDO was marred by controversies resulting in the government turning down his extension. He was even awarded a jail sentence for contempt of court.
Dr Saraswat was the key scientist in the development of the Prithvi missile and its induction in the Indian armed forces.
A PhD in Combustion Engineering, Dr Saraswat started his career in DRDO in 1972 at Hyderabad-based Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), he was responsible for the development of the country’s first Liquid Propulsion Engine, DEVIL. As Project Director of Prithvi, he steered the design, development, production and induction of the first indigenous Surface-to-Surface missile system into the armed forces. He is regarded as one of the key scientists in the team of former President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who is said to have had a deep influence on Dr Saraswat.
He was conferred the Padma Shri in 1998. He was also conferred the Padma Bhusan by the Government of India in 2013.
However, his career was not without controversies. In 2012, Dr Saraswat took a stand contradictory to the then Army Chief, General VK Singh, who had labelled Tatra trucks as substandard. Talking about Tatra trucks at a press conference, Dr Saraswat had said, "Tatra truck is an outstanding truck...They have a very good cross country capability and can move at good speeds."
Earlier in 2010 too, he had torn into the armed forces for failing to overcome their 'temptation' to induct latest imported weapon systems. Speaking at the National Technology Day in May where the then Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, Admiral Nirmal Verma and Gen VK Singh were also present, Dr Saraswat had said, "Services also must understand that while the temptation may be overwhelming to field proven, state-of-the-art imported systems, they too have a role to play in the country’s economic and industrial growth. No foreign system can be customised to completely address our long-term requirements."
Interestingly, as of now, both Gen Singh and Dr Saraswat have become part of the Narendra Modi government. While the former chief of DRDO has become full-time member of NITI Aayog, the former Army Chief is the Minister of State of External Affairs and Minister of State (independent charge) for North East Region, in the Modi government.
In a September 2012 report, the New Indian Express had said, "...a nightmare was revealed recently when Defence Minister AK Antony ordered the Comptroller General of Defence Audit (CGDA) to do a secret audit of India’s equivalent of the futuristic workshop of James Bond’s ‘Q’ — the Defence Research and Development Organisation that goes by the handle DRDO."
Quoting the CGDA, the newspaper had said, "DRDO has been developing equipment which is either sub-standard or have extended deadlines and additional budgets. Many of the projects have been sanctioned without the requisite government approval. Only 10% of projects have come to the Ministry for clearance. Corruption and nepotism exists in the upper echelons and there is an exodus of qualified scientists."
"The CGDA has questioned why he (Dr Saraswat) granted Rs2.88 crore to a mathematics institute to develop a futuristic radar when its scientists are not even remotely connected with research relating to the project. Incidentally, Dr Saraswat is the president of the institute’s governing body. The audit also stated that the institute lacked expert manpower and started recruitment only after getting DRDO funds that were released without due diligence. A Dehradun scientific lab was granted Rs14 crore to develop a communication link, while the institute headed by Dr Saraswat was also sanctioned Rs2.98 crore to develop the same technology — it doesn’t have even basic facilities like computers for individual researchers," the report says.
Although DRDO denied all the observations of the CGDA report, it affected the career of Dr Saraswat.
In September 2012, the Defence Ministry issued an order that said the Director General of DRDO would take all financial decisions in consultations with the Finance Division of the Ministry. Prior to that, Dr Saraswat had the power to grant financial approvals up to Rs50 crore on his own.
He retired from DRDO on 31 May 2013 when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh decided not to extend Dr Saraswat's tenure. Interestingly, quoting sources, a report from Times of India said, that former President Dr Kalam had sent an eloquent endorsement of Dr Saraswat, who was seeking an extension as DRDO chief.
The new full time member of the NITI Aayog also had a run in with the High Court. In September 2014, Dr Saraswat and Dr D Malakondaiah, the director of Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) were sentenced to three week's simple imprisonment by Madras High Court. The HC held them guilty for disobeying its April 2009 order related to re-employment of a clerk in a school run by a wing of the government’s scientific organisation.
The Planning Commission is dead. Long Live the Planning Commission
On the first day of 2015, prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi took to twitter to say that the Planning Commission of India was being transformed to NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog. A volley of tweets from the PM, followed by a detailed press release, make it clear that while the Planning Commission is dead, it will live long. In its new avatar as NITI Aayog (NA), it will probably be bigger and significantly more powerful. It will be a parallel force in policy-making headed by the PM himself and will include a governing council comprising all state chief ministers and lieutenant governors of Union territories.
Mr Modi tweeted that having been the chief minister of a state himself, he understands the need for such interaction to ‘foster a spirit of cooperative federalism’. But, effectively, with such a composition, NA will be a body that will be just as powerful and, probably, more significant than the Union Cabinet. Why more significant? Because, NA will give Mr Modi direct and unfettered opportunity to deal with state chief ministers, especially those from other parties on financial matters. It is also a way to ensure support, which will be crucial in the Rajya Sabha, where the government has been facing some embarrassment.
The Cabinet resolution ushering in NA, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, BR Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the sage-poet Tiruvalluvar, among many others, says that NA will bid farewell to a ‘one size fits all’ approach towards development and celebrate India’s diversity and plurality by embracing specific demands of states, regions and locations. The description of NA’s role is vague and all-encompassing, at the same time. The press release calls it a ‘think tank’ of the government and a ‘directional and policy dynamo’ that will play a pivotal role in India’s ‘development journey’. It will be all things to all people at the Centre and the states. It will provide ‘provide key inputs on various policy matters’, will be pro-urbanisation and work at using technology to create ‘wholesome, secure and economically vibrant habitats’, provide ‘relevant strategic and technical advice across the spectrum on matters of national and international import’ and so on and so forth.
On 15 August 2014, many of us listening to the PM’s independence day address at the historic Red Fort, thought that the Planning Commission would be shut down. At the least, we expected that this high-profile sinecure for people close to the ruling government, with no accountability (remember Rs35 lakh spent on two toilets?) will be drastically downsized. But the rambling Cabinet resolution on NA suggests otherwise.
Apart from the powerful governing council, NA will have regional councils to be formed on a need basis to address ‘specific issues and contingencies’ with a specified tenure. The regional councils too will comprise the PM and chief ministers. Domain experts and specialists with relevant knowledge will be special invitees nominated by the PM.
The full-time organisational structure will comprise a vice-chairperson appointed by the PM, full-time members, two part-time members from leading universities/institutions, and up to four Union ministers nominated by the PM as ex-officio members. There will also be chief executive officer (CEO) appointed by the PM for a fixed tenure who will have the rank of a Union secretary with a secretariat.
Is there any doubt at all that NA is envisaged as the second most powerful body in the country after Narendra Modi’s PMO (prime minister’s office) and probably on par with the Union Cabinet? Appointments to NA will be keenly watched in the coming days.
Sources say that many BJP supporters, including academics and ideologues from the south, will find a berth at NA.
NOTE: This article was written before the PMO announced names of the NITI Aayog members.
Delhi CP says latest medical board report says the death was unnatural & due to poisoning