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The Bug’s Musings

The Centre plans a clean-up in tainted intel agency NTRO

The Bug’s Musings
Jitender Gupta
The Bug’s Musings
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

On March 16 this year, the Delhi High Court caused a bit of a flutter in India’s secretive intelligence community when it directed the government to furnish all files related to corruption in India’s technical intelligence agency NTRO (National Technical Research Organisation). The high court order comes even as NTRO has issued a chargesheet to one of its top-level officials, senior advisor and special secretary, Dr M.S. Vijayaraghavan.

The Outlook May 3, 2010, cover on NTRO phone taps; M.S. Vijayaraghavan
The HC order, following a petition filed by a former joint secretary of NTRO, threatens to blow the lid off the systemic corruption and rot that has plagued the organisation in the last three years. The NTRO, raised in the aftermath of the Kargil war, gathers technical intelligence using an array of radars and antennae on the lines of the US national security agency (NSA). Dogged of late by a series of controversies, it also has the dubious distinction of becoming the first intelligence agency in independent India to face a hostile audit by the CAG.

V.K. Mittal, who served as the centre director of NTRO’s largest facility, the Centre for Communications Applications, filed a petition in the HC after his efforts to expose corruption in the agency hit a bureaucratic wall. Mittal resigned from the NTRO in the same year that he was picked up by the agency and was named scientist of the year (2007-08). Frustrated at the systemic rot, Mittal wrote a series of letters and filed numerous RTI applications to uncover the truth. His allegations ranged from misuse of secret funds by senior NTRO officials to illegal procurements and recruitments. Some of Mittal’s charges:

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  • There were several financial irregularities in the procurement of key systems such as a project to intercept satellite communications and another to purchase portable satellite terminals. Mittal alleged that project director Ruchi Chandra Srivastav tried to favour a particular firm whose system had already been compromised.
  • He alleged that scores of people had been illegally recruited by the agency. One example he cited was Vaibhav Vikrant, an engineer who was recruited as a uav pilot after finishing an aero-modelling course from a Haryana institute. An inquiry panel, set up under the orders of NSA Shiv Shankar Menon in 2009, found the recruitment to be faulty. (He’s since been asked to leave after he failed to clear some crucial examinations.)
  • Regarding the allegations against Vijayaraghavan, though the inquiry panel only recommended some minor penalties, the NSA has stepped in now. Meanwhile, Mittal has pointed out that the accused, while serving as second-in-command at the NTRO, simultaneously held two other posts. He continued to be the director of the DRDO laboratory as well as private-public venture SETS, in Chennai. While this should have set alarm bells ringing, no one took notice and Vijayaraghavan’s association with the private-public venture went on even when he was picked up to be a part of an intelligence agency. He flew regularly to Bangalore and received emoluments from SETS, Chennai.

Worried by Mittal’s complaints, the NSA formed a one-man-inquiry committee to look into the allegations. The man chosen by the PMO was P.V. Kumar, a former special secretary with RAW who had joined NTRO as a special advisor. Kumar found several instances where Mittal’s allegations proved to be true.

Kumar, who subsequently took over as NTRO chairman in 2010, has now been tasked with cleaning up the agency and restoring its credibility. (He is in a unique position to do so since he headed RAW’s telecom division—he has the technical expertise as well as over 30 years service as an intelligence professional.)

However, the NTRO has been quick to point out that many of the dubious procurements alleged by Mittal were initiated by him. But Mittal has countered that by saying while many of these projects were planned by him, the actual sanctions came from the NTRO financial advisor. Much of his two-year effort bore partial fruit when the PMO wrote to him on January 22 this year admitting they had recommended the NTRO take remedial measures in a time-bound manner.

NTRO is not the only one in a soup. The cabinet secretariat has also been prompt in ordering an inquiry into allegations levelled against the purchase of aircraft by the aviation research centre, the air wing of RAW. With the Delhi HC seeking NTRO’s files on the action taken against the guilty, the agency’s troubles are far from over.

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