Prime Edition


Kuldip Nayar is a senior journalist, human rights activist and author.

It’s time some heads rolled in the PMO

omething is seriously wrong with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Too many controversies are landing at its doorsteps. The PMO has become too powerful and often tilts towards the wrong side. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not aware of what goes on. The Supreme Court judgement on the allotment of mobile licences said that the Prime Minister was not to be blamed because his advisers and officers kept him in the dark.

Take, for example, the Prime Minister's statement that some US-based NGOs are behind the agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. Since the plant has been set up by Russia, a cold war of sorts has begun. The Russian ambassador to New Delhi has endorsed the PM's view on the United States' efforts to stall the commissioning of the plant. Minister of State in the PMO, V. Narayanasamy, has accused "the NGOs funded by Scandinavian countries and the US of financing the agitation". (The US gives some Rs 3,000 cr to Indian NGOs).

The charge of foreign money has naturally made the People's Movement against Nuclear Energy angry. The government has said that the licences of three NGOs have been cancelled on the basis of the Home Minister's information that the funds received from abroad were diverted to finance the agitation. This is no proof. It has to be backed by facts. The protesters complain that the Central intelligence agencies are sending spies into villages to divide communities and create fear. This may well be true because we know from experience how intelligence agencies function. The fact that the government wants the CBI to probe the matter shows that the proof is not adequate.

Understandably, the US' officiating ambassador in New Delhi has said that his government is not against India producing nuclear energy, but wants the facts about the Prime Minister's charge. The extent to which the Bush administration went to have a nuclear energy pact with India does not indicate that Washington is against India having nuclear power. However, it is true that the US is hesitating to enter our market because our indemnity law makes the plant manufacturers responsible for accidents.

There is no doubt that New Delhi is frustrated that it is not being able to commission the nuclear plant even after getting clearance from the International Atomic Energy Agency. But the inhabitants around the plant have genuine fears, particularly after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. They want a committee to go into the safety measures of the plant so that they can be confident that no harm will come to them. When even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa writes to the Prime Minister expressing her doubts, the matter should not rest on false prestige. The core of the problem is not the protest, but the plant, which, it is feared, has not taken into account the objections raised.

Take another example. The PMO has blacklisted four top scientists because they were reportedly involved in the controversial spectrum deal between Indian Space Research Organisastion (ISRO) and Devas Multimedia Private Limited. One of the indicted scientists is former ISRO chief Madhavan Nair. As a consequence, Professor Roddam Narasimha, the longest serving member of ISRO, announced his resignation, saying that the punishment has demoralised the scientific community. Officials said the Prime Minister rejected his resignation. But the matter does not end there. It is said that there were only procedural lapses, but no irregularities or corruption or diversion of funds.

he PMO does not realise that it is demoralising the ISRO scientific community. This can adversely affect technological initiatives. Moving against bureaucrats is one thing, but to take action against top scientists is entirely different, for it requires caution and finesse. If there was serious hanky-panky, it should be brought to public gaze. There has to be transparency. The PMO's word cannot be taken as gospel truth. Narasimha said that there was no short-charging. Nair, who has been blacklisted, has demanded a fresh inquiry because he feels he and his three colleagues have been wronged. The government system of probing and punishing the delinquent must be overhauled.

The Prime Minister has said that China is far ahead of us in science and technology. How can his office be so insensitive to the resignation by a person like Narasimha over the treatment meted out to top scientists? Agreed, the corrupt should not be spared, but was this the reason why the four scientists were blacklisted? If so, the nation has the right to know. The PMO cannot be both judge and jury. Some heads should roll in the PMO, which recommended to the PM the names of the scientists.

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