NEW DELHI: In a telling sign of the troubles within the country's defence research establishment, the Centre had to intervene late last week to ensure that one of India's leading missile scientists remain in service after the DRDO said it wanted him out on July 31.
Dr A Sivathanu Pillai, CEO and MD of Brahmos Corporation and chief controller of defence research at the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), is scheduled to retire on July 31, but according to norms should have been recommended for an extension.
However, DRDO chief M Natarajan did not move the necessary files, forcing the government to intervene and ask him to call for a peer committee to review Dr Pillai's extension.
A reluctant Natarajan called the peer committee on July 17 and nominated his immediate predecessor, DR VK Atre, as a special invitee to it.
With a favourable panel on his side, Natarajan is believed to have secured a recommendation against Dr Pillai's extension.
The common bonding factor between Natarajan and Atre is their antagonism towards the 'Kalam boys' in DRDO, those who mostly came into DRDO from the Indian Space Research Organisation in the '80s after their successful stint in space missions. It was those rocket technologies that later helped India develop the Agni missiles.
Sources say the only palpable reason for Natarajan's antagonistic stand against Dr Pillai was the fact that the latter too is a former ISRO scientist and a protégé of former President APJ Abdul Kalam.
Though the war against Kalam's legacy in DRDO has been on for a long time, the strange case of Dr Pillai is indicative of more than just that, said DRDO sources.
According to the sources, defence secretary Shekhar Dutt late last week wrote against the peer committee recommendation and said the defence minister AK Antony wanted Dr Pillai to continue.
The sources said a formal file for Pillai's extension of more than two years has also been forwarded to the Appointments Committee of Cabinet.
They said the military chiefs too had conveyed their demand that Dr Pillai continue in service because the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, a path-breaking Indo-Russian joint production, is in a critical stage of induction into the three services. Dr Pillai has been heading the Brahmos corporation since its inception.
The DRDO is presently under audit by an external committee to study what is wrong with the body.