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More Accountability

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It was a major setback for the Indian scientific establishment when, on Thursday, the GSLVF-10 rocket failed to put the Geo-Imaging Satellite (GISAT-1) in orbit owing to failure of the cryogenic engine. A day earlier, India’s test of its 1000 kilometre cruise missile aborted into the sea after covering a short distance. Considering how much it costs the public exchequer, perhaps there is need for better scrutiny of the establishments responsible for these high technology experiments and projects. Does the success-failure record match that of other such establishments across the world? What is the trajectory of the space and defence technologies in relation with requirements on the ground? Would it help India more if technology more immediately applicable on various fronts is developed, instead of attempting path-breaking research more suited to the developed nations?

Also, are those responsible for planning, scrutiny and audit actually doing their jobs or merely placing their trust on choices made by specific institutions? Is there any accountability for outcomes, or does it have just to do with approving budgets? More importantly, considering the advances made by the companies of private players like Bezos, Branson and Musk, have steps been taken to dynamically involve India’s private sector in the game, or is it just talk?

It is also important to ensure that – to make the expenditure worthwhile – a special task force be set up to chart the course for the future regarding spin-offs of this high technology in as many sectors of the economy as possible, specially defence. It may be noted how dated India’s ordnance factories are in their approach and regarding the kind of innovative equipment they should produce to meet requirements. How well is the Indian soldier equipped, technology wise, in comparison to the US one? How inventive have scientists been in applying high technology evolved from space and such like experiments into producing anti-terrorist gadgetry? If the trickle-down is not taking place enough, it becomes difficult to justify the expenditure on the more cutting edge experimentations like reaching out to the Moon and Mars.

Although it is an established principle that, if scientists are smart enough, failures are just as valuable as successes if the right lessons are learned, is that happening in India? Should what went wrong not be put in the public domain for examination? This is not to demoralise the scientists, but to ensure accountability as is the case in every other aspect of human endeavour.