Law & Judiciary

    'Matter of concern for security of the state': SC on ISRO scientist's unauthorised association with foreign institution

    The Hawk
    May14/ 2023

    Supreme Court

    New Delhi: The Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist -- an expert on starting and transient flows in the solid rocket motors -- for his unauthorised association with foreign institution, especially in the area of propulsion, which is a strategic research and development subject in the organization.

    A bench of Justices M.R. Shah and C.T. Ravikumar said it is not the mere unauthorised absence of the appellant that actually weighed with the authority and evidently, the organisation is perfectly justified in casting suspicion on the honesty, integrity, reliability, dependability, and trustworthiness in view of the factual situation.

    Justice Ravikumar, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said the Centre's stand that his unauthorised association with foreign institution, especially in the area of propulsion, which is a strategic research and development subject in the organisation and based on which the nation's rocketry and ambitious launch vehicle programs are/were advancing, was a matter of concern for the security of the state.

    "When such acts/conduct occur/occurs from a scientist in a sensitive and strategic organisation, the decision to impose dismissal from service cannot be said to be illegal or absolutely unwarranted," he said in the judgment delivered on Friday.

    The bench said that the continued association with a foreign agency/university, ignoring the fact that he is a responsible scientist in the ISRO, which is a highly sensitive and strategic research and development organisation under the Department of Space, if viewed suspiciously and thought that his further exposure to ISRO's critical rocket technologies would create serious complications.

    "It cannot be said to be bereft of substance and not a matter of concern in regard to the security of the state," it said.The bench said it does not find any reason to hold that the judgment of the Kerala High Court, dismissing the challenge against the order of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), warrants any kind of interference in exercise of the power under Article 136 of the Constitution. "The appeal, therefore, must fail and accordingly it is dismissed, however, without any cost," said the bench.

    Dr V.R. Sanal Kumar moved the apex court challenging the high court judgment delivered in January 2012, which dismissed his challenge against September 30, 2008 order of CAT.

    Kumar was initially appointed as Scientist/Engineer 'SC' in Group-A in Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram of ISRO on January 15, 1992. On July 1, 1999, he was promoted as Scientist/Engineer 'SD'. On August 28, 2002, he was invited by Prof. H.D. Kim, Head of School of Mechanical Engineering, Andong National University, South Korea, to join as a postdoctoral trainee and to assist him for one year, recognising the appellant as a well-known expert on the starting and transient flows in the solid rocket motors. Kumar applied for leave, which was not approved, however he went to South Korea.

    The appellant, through an email on September 5, 2003, was informed that his leave was not sanctioned and he was required to report for duty not later than September 11, 2003.

    Meanwhile, the respondent organisation came to know he had published a technical paper as first author with a foreigner as one of the co-authors in the 39th American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Joint Propulsion Conference, US held during July, 2003, without obtaining specific approval of the competent authority. Thereupon, disciplinary action was initiated against him and he was charge-sheeted on December 19, 2003, for unauthorised absence and publication of papers without following due procedure or obtaining approval.

    The appellant claimed he is a high-profile scientist with specialisation in rocket propulsion with proven credentials at par with NASA scientists. Kumar said that he is second to none in space programme and is having all potential to become the Chairman of ISRO and is the best suitable candidate for the post with immediate effect.

    The bench said there can be no doubt that the appellant has been working under ISRO since 1992, and he has gained sufficient experience on the subject.

    "leaving to a foreign country without prior permission and continuing there for a considerable long period despite advice and instructions to come back and continuing to associate with such a foreign organisation/university researching on rocketry, the respondent organisation cannot be said to have committed a flaw or fault in entertaining suspicion on his honesty, integrity, reliability, dependability and trustworthiness and above all to treat such acts as a matter of concern in relation to the security of the State," said the bench.

    The bench also said the court cannot judge on the expediency or inexpediency to dispense with the inquiry as it was arrived at based on the subjective satisfaction of the President based on materials.

    Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing the appellant, submitted that he was dismissed without inquiry in the manner provided under the Central Civil Services Rules.

    On behalf of the Centre, advocate Shailesh Madiyal submitted that ISRO employees are not allowed to go abroad and to take up assignments or research there, without permission.