ISI Director

Unceremonious exit

Print edition : July 10, 2015

Bimal Kumar Roy. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

The Director of the Indian Statistical Institute is removed at the fag end of his term for “indiscipline”.

Months after receiving the Padma Shri, Bimal Kumar Roy, Director of the prestigious Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), headquartered in Kolkata, was unceremoniously divested of “all administrative, financial and other powers and duties of Director ISI” on June 10, on the grounds of “indiscipline”, barely one and a half months before the end of his term in office. The Director-designate, Sanghamitra Bandopadhyay, who was supposed to assume office on August 1, will perform the functions and duties of Director in the interim period. She is the first woman director of the ISI. An order issued by the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation on June 10 stated: “Indiscipline is evident on the part of the present Director, Prof. B. Roy…. A number of general and specific matters of financial and administrative irregularities which show the direct or supervisory responsibilities for acts of omission or commission on the part of the present Director Prof. B. Roy are available in the Ministry….”

The Ministry order also voiced “justified and reasonable” apprehension that Roy may “indulge in propagation of indiscipline and financial impropriety in the interregnum up to 31st July”, before the new Director takes charge. According to the order, the decision to remove Roy was taken “in public interest, and in public good, and to prevent financial malfeasance, and for the good of the Institute”. Sections 11 and 12 of the Indian Statistical Institute Act, 1959, were invoked, which specify the circumstances under which the Central government can intervene in the matters of the institute. According to sources in the ISI, the developments have been essentially the fallout of a power struggle. Unlike some of the other posts in the institute, which are elected, the Director is appointed by the Council of the ISI on the basis of the recommendation of a selection committee, which comprises the Chairman of the Council and two experts appointed by the Council.

Sources in the ISI said trouble started brewing in April when Sanghamitra Bandopadhyay, Professor in the Machine Intelligence Unit of the Institute, was nominated for the Director’s post. The five others shortlisted included Bimal Roy. A sizeable section of the teaching staff had expressed the wish that Bimal Roy be reappointed Director, and had even started a signature campaign. “Though nobody questions her academic credentials, Professor Bandopadhyay’s relatively young age was perhaps the reason for some of the teachers raising objection,” said a professor at the institute.

According to highly placed sources, matters came to a head when Roy refused to put his signature on the proceedings of the Council meeting on April 23, when the appointment of the new Director was proposed, on the grounds that some of the members had voiced dissent. A copy of the audio recording of the proceedings of the meeting also landed up with a popular vernacular television news channel. “Things started turning ugly as a section loyal to Roy even threatened to go to court,” said an employee of the institute. An impasse on the appointment continued for over a month until the Chairman, Arun Shourie, used his veto to bring the proposal through on June 4. A professor also pointed to a tradition in the ISI where with the exception of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, who founded the ISI, no one has been reappointed Director.

“I cannot recall another occasion in which the director of a premier institute like the ISI has been shown the door in such an unceremonious fashion. People in the Institute are concerned about this,” said a source in the ISI. There are many who, in spite of being detractors of Roy, are unhappy with the manner of his dismissal and feel that the autonomy of the Institute has been compromised by what appears to be an excessively harsh intervention by the Ministry.

However, a sizeable section of the professors also feel that the incident, though unfortunate, has served a purpose. “If Bimal Roy had remained unpunished, it would have set a bad precedent, whereby in future others could challenge appointments to suit their own purpose. It has been an unpleasant affair, but it served as an example to deter future acts of indiscipline by people in positions of power,” said a teacher in the ISI.

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