Manohar Parrikar justifies sacking, says younger man must lead DRDO

New Delhi: A day after Avinash Chander was sacked as chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said Wednesday that he recommended the removal and that the organization should be headed by a younger person.

Amid criticism from the Congress about the way Chander was asked to go, Parrikar insisted that there was no "controversy". The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) approved the termination of Chander's contract with effect from Jan 31, 15 months ahead of schedule.

Chander, 64, retired Nov 30 but was given a contract for 18 months till May 31, 2016 as head of DRDO. "I recommended that a person on contract should not be occupying such a senior position. This senior position should be filled by other eligible senior persons. There is no controversy here," Parrikar said.

"I believe DRDO should be headed by a younger man... I had proposed for his removal and they have agreed to it." Government sources said nuclear scientist Sekhar Basu was likely to be named the new DRDO chief. Basu, who heads the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, was behind the nuclear system that is driving the Arihant-class submarines of the Indian Navy.

A search panel headed by the cabinet secretary will pick Chander's replacement from among top DRDO scientists. Chander's sack notification was put up on the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) web site Tuesday but removed later. DRDO officials said they did not receive any official information on Chander's removal.

Chander is widely known as the man behind the Agni series of missiles. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh sought an explanation for Chander's sudden removal. "Avinash Chander ... dismissed 15 months before his term expired. Would government please explain?" he asked.

Chander was the secretary, Defence Research and Development and director general of DRDO as well as the scientific advisor to the defence minister. "The tenure of the DRDO chief would normally have ended in November but the previous cabinet had approved a three-year extension to his term, with the additional years being on contract," Parrikar told reporters.

The minister added that the post would be filled by someone till a permanent replacement was found. "As of now, the person to replace him has not been decided. We will fill the post temporarily by someone who has the urge for development."

The DRDO had faced criticism from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August last year when he said the "chalta hai" attitude will not help and asked the DRDO to come up with cutting edge technology. In the same speech, Modi also laid emphasis on promoting young talent in the DRDO.

The DRDO was set up in 1958 to develop indigenous military technology and cut back on arms imports. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by Modi has been emphasising on promoting 'Make in India' in the defence sector.

India meets nearly 80 percent of its military needs with foreign imports. India is the world's ninth biggest military spender, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's (SIPRI) report on world military expenditure for 2014.

The DRDO, which is India's premier agency in defence research, has several projects marred by delays. These include light combat aircraft Tejas, the Kaveri engine, long range surface-to-air missile, helicopter version of the third generation anti-tank guided missile Helina, and air-to-air missile Astra.

Parrikar's predecessor Arun Jaitley told parliament last year that "technology challenges, lack of skilled manpower and infrastructure in the country" were the key reasons for the delays in the projects.

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