The Supreme Court has junked a scientist’s plea challenging his dismissal from service by ISRO, saying the space agency was justified in suspecting his honesty and integrity on account of his unauthorised association with a South Korean institution involved in rocketry research, a strategic subject of his employer.
The apex court was hearing the special leave petition of V R Sanal Kumar, a former scientist at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) of the Indian Space Research Organisation in Thiruvananthapuram against the order of his dismissal from service which was upheld by the Central Administrative Tribunal and the Kerala High Court.
Kumar, who had joined the ISRO in 1992, was dismissed with effect from September 1, 2003 under the Department of Space Employees’ (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules for joining Andong National University, South Korea and assisting Prof H D Kim, Head of School of Mechanical Engineering, without permission from his employer.
Upholding the decisions of CAT and the Kerala High Court, a bench of justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar said, “It is not the mere unauthorized absence of the appellant that actually weighed with the authority and evidently, the organization is perfectly justified in casting suspicion on the honesty, integrity, reliability, dependability and trustworthiness in view of the factual situation obtained in this case…
“….. besides entertaining the stand that his unauthorized association with foreign institution, especially in the area of propulsion, which is a strategic research and development subject in the organization 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.”
It said when such conduct of a scientist in a sensitive and strategic organisation comes to light, then the decision to impose dismissal from service cannot be said to be “illegal or absolutely unwarranted.”
It noted Kumar’s unauthorised association with a foreign institution in the area of propulsion a strategic research and development subject in ISRO and based on which the nation’s rocketry and ambitious launch vehicle programs were advancing was a matter of concern for the security of the state.
The bench said it did not find any reason to interfere with the high court’s judgment dismissing the challenge against the CATs order.
“The appeal, therefore, must fail and accordingly, it is dismissed, however, without any cost,” it said.
The bench also noted the submissions of Kumar, according to which he was a high-profile scientist with a specialisation in rocket propulsion with proven credentials at par with a NASA scientist.
“He would further state that he is second to none in the 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 noted.
The top court said the facts of the case revealed that Kumar, without permission from the competent authority, went to South Korea and joined Andong National University, where he assisted a professor who was the head of the school of mechanical engineering and continued his association with the foreign institution involved in the research on rocketry.
It said Kumar was repeatedly advised not to have any contact with any external agency, such as the university, without permission from appropriate authorities in ISRO.
“The further indisputable facts would reveal his persistent dealings with that university ignoring such instructions,” it said.
The top court said that taking into account Kumar’s expertise and the fact that he was working under ISRO since 1992, there cannot be any doubt regarding his experience.
“…in such circumstances 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 or university researching on rocketry, …ISRO 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,” it said.