Key scientist ‘moved out’, seen as out of race for ISRO chief post

The scientist, Tapan Misra, has been transferred to Bengaluru and appointed an adviser to ISRO chairman K Sivan. ISRO officials said his appointment as an adviser to the present chairman practically edges him out of the race to head the space agency.

An eminent scientist who is credited with developing space-borne radars, which can pierce through clouds and aid military surveillance, map annual cropping patterns and accurately predict cyclones, has been moved out as director of the Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre (SAC), a crucial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which has been in the forefront of developing payloads for satellites.

The scientist, Tapan Misra, has been transferred to Bengaluru and appointed an adviser to ISRO chairman K Sivan. ISRO officials said his appointment as an adviser to the present chairman practically edges him out of the race to head the space agency. “It is a consultative post, not an executive one. The chairman has always been selected from the pool of executive directors. Besides, such a post never existed in the organisation before,” an ISRO official said on condition of anonymity.

Having taken over the reign of SAC from A S Kirankumar, who went on to become the ISRO chairman, in February 2015, the scientist, Tapan Misra, headed sensitive projects, including development of a series of communication satellites for military and civil applications.
Next only to ISRO chairman K Sivan, Misra was not only a key scientist in the development of critical technologies for India but was said to be in the running to become the next chairman of the space organisation. Sivan’s term ends in January 2021.

Associate director at SAC, D K Das, takes Misra’s place at the Ahmedabad centre. Sources in the organisation said Misra was moved out after a string of incidents, the most recent being “recall” of GSAT-11 from Arianespace’s spaceport in French Guiana this April. Sources in ISRO told The Sunday Express that Misra was strictly against the recall, as he felt it would further stall the already delayed project.

GSAT-11 is the heaviest communication satellite to be developed by ISRO, and is tipped to usher in a revolution in internet communication. The other incident is a “mysterious fire” incident at the Antenna Test facility of SAC on May 3, which damaged ISRO’s crucial communication payload testing facility where the most advanced high-throughput communication satellites were being tested. Misra was in Delhi for a meeting that day. This fire has been called the “biggest” in the history of SAC – a CISF official, who was inside as part of the firefighting, was injured in the blaze.

On Saturday, Misra remained noncommittal about the decision to move him out. “No comments,” is all he said when The Sunday Express asked his views. About his future role, Misra said, “I am a technology man. I wish I can inspire younger colleagues to do more innovation and usher in path-breaking technologies.”

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