The director of the International Institute for Population Sciences, K.S. James was suspended to ensure fair probe into alleged irregularities in appointments, recruitments, compliance matters, the Health Ministry said on Saturday. The IIPS falls under the Union Health Ministry and prepares the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).
The ministry further said that the suspension initially is for 90 days or until completion of further investigation, whichever is earlier. It is revocable with the approval of the Suspension Revocation Committee/Review Committee in the ministry. "The suspension is not a punishment but to pave way for a fair and free investigation."
Complaints about 'irregularities'
The Union Health Ministry in its statement said that various complaints were received regarding irregularities in recruitment and appointments and compliance with the reservation roster. To investigate them, a fact-finding committee (FFC) was constituted by the ministry on May 6. The committee gathered information from IIPS statements from both the complainants and the respondent the reports of the Special Audit Team, the team for examining Reservation and Roster Registers of IIPS and the sub-committee for examining the non-selection of the Hindi officer.
The committee found prima facie irregularities in 11 of the 35 complaints received, which were mainly regarding lapses observed in certain appointments, recruitment of faculty, reservation rosters, and dead stock registers among others, the ministry said. The FFC has also recommended an inquiry against the concerned registrars for the corresponding period as well as the concerned director. The ministry claimed that the charges are "serious" in nature and the director of the IIPS, being the head of the institute, is "directly or indirectly responsible for the failure to exercise adequate supervision."
The ministry further said that the director failed to detect these irregularities promptly and take corrective action in a timely manner. "Therefore, his presence as the head of the institute may hinder a fair investigation and cause interference in the proceedings," the ministry said. It is also apprehended that his presence may minimise the required cooperation of the other officials of the IIPS with the investigation team, it added. "Therefore, it was felt necessary to prevent this avoidable interference in a free, fair and fast investigation to gather sufficient documentary evidence and corroborating facts and circumstantial evidence to frame a firm charge sheet to institute a fair disciplinary proceeding against the Director, PS and other officers if required," the ministry said.
"Hence, during the period of further process of investigation, it was decided to suspend director, IIPS under the Rule 10 (1)(a) of CCS (CCA) Rules, 1965," it added.
Opposition slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi after reports of the Union government suspending the director of the IIPS surfaced.
Congress General Secretary in-charge Jairam Ramesh claimed that the Modi government will say 'no data available' when the data does not support the narrative being "peddled by the Prime Minister and his drumbeaters". "The Modi government will do one or all of the following: 1. Deny access to data. 2. Dispute the methodology into question. 3. Discard the data. 4. Discontinue its publication. 5. Defame those in charge of collating and putting it out," he said, while sharing a media report.
According to a report by The Wire, a suspension letter was issued to K.S. James on the evening of July 28. He had earlier been asked to resign as the government was not happy with certain data sets that came up in the surveys conducted by the IIPS, the report further said. The latest NFHS-5 showed, among other things, that more than 40 per cent households did not have access to clean cooking fuel – which formed an important part of the Centre's scheme of Ujjwala Yojana.
The survey further pointed out that 19 per cent of households do not use any toilet facility, meaning that they practice open defecation and that there is not a single state or Union Territory, except for Lakshadweep, where 100 per cent of the population has access to a toilet, The Wire further reported.
Reiterating the problem with data and the Centre, Jairam Ramesh further said that "there is still no sight of the Census that should have been conducted in 2021." "This is the first time since independence that the government is not serious about getting the Census done!" he said.
Thomas Issac, a member of the Central Committee of Communist Party of India (Marxist) said in a tweet, "Blame the mirror for one’s crooked face.That’s what Modi is doing. GOI has suspended K S James,director of International Institute of Population Studies. Why? NFHS-5 organised by it showed 19% still defecate in open,40% do not have clean cooking fuel and anaemia is on the rise."
Reiterating similar claims, Jawhar Sircar, Rajya Sabha MP of Trinamool Congress said that the BJP "manipulates data" and presents "fake reality". "Modi suspends Director of Institute that said: 1. India was nowhere close to being open defecation free. 2. 40% households did not have access to clean cooking fuel 3. Anaemia in India is on the rise," he said in a tweet.