Known as the Agni man, Avinash Chander's contract was till May 2016 (file photo: DRDO)
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has begun putting his stamp on the key personnel in his team, with Avinash Chander, chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the first to go. The government has terminated Chander’s contract more than a year before his tenure was to end.
The 64-year old scientist – known as the Agni man for heading India’s Agni missile programme – was appointed as DRDO chief in June 2013 for a period of three years till May 2016. According to the agreement Chander’s appointment “beyond his date of retirement i.e 30.11.2014 would be on contract basis.”
The defence minister said on Wednesday that the DRDO chief was sacked because he felt someone from a “slightly younger generation” should hold this senior position and not by someone on contract.
Last year the NDA government turned down a DRDO request for granting an extension to four senior scientists who had reached the retirement age.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also expressed dissatisfaction with DRDO last August, saying, “The biggest challenge for DRDO is how to work before time. The world will not wait for us.”
A standing committee report on defence had recently sought DRDO’s comments on delays in the development of major platforms, which resulted in time and cost overruns.
Parrikar, who was appointed defence minister in November, said on Wednesday that there should no controversy in his decision to cancel Chander’s contract. Chander also served as scientific adviser to the defence minister.
The DRDO chief was reportedly not informed that his contract was cancelled with effect from January 31, and heard the news from media reports. The sacking was first reported by The Hindustan Times website.
“It is the government’s decision to end my contract but I had no indication this was coming. No idea why it has happened,” Chander told the media.
The manner of his removal has raised eyebrows since the development of the Agni range of missiles under a highly restrictive international control regime was possible only because of Chander’s planning and persistence.
The DRDO was set up in 1958 to develop indigenous military technology and cut back on arms imports. But India still holds the dubious distinction of being the world’s largest weapons importer, sourcing 70% of its defence requirements from overseas manufacturers.
A panel headed by the cabinet secretary is expected to choose Chander’s replacement from among top DRDO scientists.