DST wants five-year extension given to director revoked

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on August 04, 2020 Published on August 03, 2020

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has demanded that Thiruvananthapuram’s Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) revoke a decision to grant its popular and professionally well-regarded director, Asha Kishore, a five-year extension in the job.

The order comes despite the fact that the institute, famed for developing key biomedical technologies, has the authority to choose its own director, much like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). SCTIMST is a grant-in-aid institution of the DST.

In addition, DST Secretary Ashutosh Sharma was present at the meeting which earlier decided to give Kishore a second term.

In its letter dated July 28 to VK Saraswat, President of the SCTIMST Institute Body (IB), the institute’s apex policymaking body, the Department reportedly asked Saraswat to immediately withdraw an order extending Kishore’s term for five years and instead submit a proposal to give her a three-month extension. Kishore’s first five-year term expired on July 15.

The DST also demanded that amendments be made to the rules within a month that would assign the task of appointing the director to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC).

Biomedical tech

Popularly known as Sree Chitra Institute, SCTIMST is known for having developed several world-class biomedical technologies, including the famous Chitra heart valve, during the 40 years since it was founded. It’s also well-regarded as a centre of excellence in areas of cardiology and neurosciences. In addition, as part of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the institute developed as many as 10 key technologies for diagnostics and patient management in a short space of time.

Saraswat, also a member of NITI Aayog and former Director General of Defence Research and Development Organisation, is, however, said to have resisted the move to scrap Kishore’s five-year extension. He is learned to have said that the IB has the right to appoint the director under the SCTIMST 1980 Act.

“Quite like IITs and AIIMS, the apex decision-making body of the institute has been given the powers to appoint by an Act of Parliament. As far as I know, there was no amendment to this rule,” M S Valiathan, who was the Director of the institute for the first 15 years, told BusinessLine.

When contacted, multiple members of the IB confirmed this to BusinessLine. “Besides, an order by the Department of Personnel and Training in 2006 had categorically made it clear that autonomous institutions which have their statutory provisions need not go to the ACC for approval. They just have to follow the statute,” one IB member, who didn’t want to be named, told this newspaper.

This was further reiterated by a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court in 2013 that heard a petition on this matter. “…we are of the opinion, the contention of the writ petitioner before of the Single Judge as also before us that prior approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet is required, has no legs to stand, therefore, we reject the same as untenable,” the High Court said in its July 15, 2013 order.

The IB members said these legal issues and the performance of the institute during the last five years were discussed when the IB held a virtual meeting on May 12 to decide on the extension. “The appreciation expressed on the outstanding performance of the institute under Kishore’s leadership was on record. Even the DST Secretary Ashutosh Sharma was present at the meeting,” the member said.

A senior scientist, unconnected with the institute but aware of the developments, said it was a handiwork of “some disgruntled elements” and that succumbing to their pressure would have a demoralising effect on “the scientists working in this finest institution.”

In a recent submission to the DST, SCTIMST said it has transferred 18 medical devices technologies in the last three years and another five are in the pipeline. The SCTIMST scientists filed 84 Indian patents and eight foreign patients — more than half of the total patents filed by the institute — in the last five years.

BusinessLine sought to contact Sharma and Saraswat for obtaining their views on record, but the messages and e-mails sent to them remained unanswered.

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Published on August 03, 2020
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