Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An Open Letter to Arun Shourie on the Sacking of the Indian Statistical Institute Director

Dear Dr. Shourie,
We, the undersigned, are all alumni of the Indian Statistical Institute spanning the period 1967-2009. We are confident that a very large number of ISI alumni share our concerns.

Scattered all over the globe, we typically do not have the time to keep track of what is happening at ISI on a day-to-day basis, even though for each of us ISI remains the home where we grew up.

Naturally, it came as a bolt from the blue for us to learn that the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) issued an order (I-12011/1/2015-ISI) on June 10, 2015 “in exercise of Sections 11 and 12 of the ISI Act, 1959,” divesting Prof Bimal Roy of “all administrative, financial and other powers and duties of Director, ISI, with effect from the afternoon of June 10, 2015.” 

We were, to quote a fellow ISI alumnus, aghast, appalled, and flabbergasted to hear the allegations of “financial and administrative irregularities”against Prof Roy, whom we all have been privileged to know for, in some cases, over 40 years.

Since that fateful day, we have spoken to a number of fellow ISI alumni who are still at ISI, including individuals who are members of the ISI Council and were present at the extremely controversial Council meeting held in Bangalore on April 23, 2015. 

We fully understand that what we have heard are often personal opinions intermingled with facts, and in spite of our close bonds with these individuals, we have not always passively accepted what they have said at face value. That said, based on these conversations, we have every reason to apprehend that the turn of events at ISI between April 23 and June 10 did not serve the best interests of the Institute.

We would, therefore, appreciate it if you could answer the questions and address the concerns listed below in a forthright manner, a manner befitting the stature of “a concerned citizen [who has] employ[ed] his pen as an effective adversary of corruption, inequality, and injustice” and whose “dedication to the truth has won admiration throughout the political spectrum”, to quote from your Magsaysay Award citation and from Martha Nussbaum, respectively.

Let us start with the first set of questions:

Is it true that the Selection Committee, appointed by the ISI Council and chaired by you, while considering the applications received for the position of Director (with effect from August 1, 2015), called Prof Roy (and five others) for an interaction that was held at Pune on April 19, 2015?

Is it true that at the meeting on April 23 you remarked that if other candidates were just not up to the mark, the Institute would continue to avail of the services of Prof Roy?

If the answers to the preceding two questions are yes, will we be incorrect in concluding that, as of April 23, you were not aware of the various “financial and administrative irregularities which show the direct or supervisory responsibilities for acts of omission or commission” on the part of Prof Roy, as mentioned in the June 10 order dismissing him?

In that case, won’t you agree that your lack of awareness of such grave matters in spite of being ISI Council Chairman is a matter of very serious concern?

We understand that the April 23 meeting had the following item on its agenda: 

“To consider (emphasis added) the report of the Selection Committee constituted by the Council for appointment of the Director of the Institute for a period of five years w.e.f. August 1, 2015.” We would like to know the nature and the final outcome of the deliberations of the ISI Council on that agenda item.

Is it not true that during the discussion on the above agenda item, relating to the appointment of the Director, the representative of the non-scientific workers of ISI to the Council objected to the Council accepting the recommendation of the Selection Committee to appoint Prof Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay to the post of Director of ISI effective August 1, 2015?

To that end, we have the following very important question to ask:

Did the ISI Council, at the meeting on April 23, 2015, move and pass a resolution accepting the recommendation of the Selection Committee to appoint Prof Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay as the Director of ISI with effect from August 1, 2015, as required under the bye-laws of ISI, which clearly states that “The appointment of the Director shall be made by the Council (emphasis added) on the recommendation made by a Selection Committee?”

We ask this because, to the best of our knowledge, earlier, at the same Council meeting on April 23, when an objection was raised relating to the appointment of an ISI Centre Head, you, as the Chairman, adopted the admirably correct democratic practice of seeking a majority vote in the Council to resolve the dilemma and validate the appointment.

If the answer to the above question is YES, would you please tell us how many Council members were in attendance during the meeting, how many voted in favor of or against the motion and how many abstained from voting?

If, however, the answer to the above question is NO, and yet the minutes of the meeting asserted otherwise, would you not agree that the purported “minutes” were factually incorrect and Prof Roy did no wrong in refusing to authenticate these minutes, as has been widely reported in the media?

Irrespective of the answer to the above question, would you please review the provisions of the ISI Act quoted in the order for us and assure us that by invoking its emergency provisions to divest Prof Roy of his powers and duties without enlightening him of the charges against him and giving him the opportunity to respond to these charges, the MOSPI violated neither the letter nor the spirit of the law?

Sir, we are extremely concerned that unless you take proactive steps to diffuse the current crisis, it will end up in the courts and cause avoidable disruption to the functioning of ISI. In the long run, litigation will also cause lasting damage to the fabric of camaraderie that, consistent with our mantra of ‘Unity in Diversity’, has been the quintessential virtue of ISI.

We urge you, therefore, to, please uphold the principles of transparency, collegiality, and shared governance. Please work with the MOSPI to secure the immediate repeal of the order of June 10, 2015, and restore “all administrative, financial and other powers and duties of Director, ISI,” to Prof Roy. Please take the recommendation of the Selection Committee back to the ISI Council (even if you think the Council has already accepted that recommendation) and let the majority opinion manifest itself freely in full public view.

Please understand that even if the ISI Council does not accept the recommendation of the Selection Committee, you will lose nothing but gain a lot – we, and countless others, will go back to admiring you for your “dedication to the truth.”

We can guarantee you that if the ISI Council resolves to accept the recommendation of the Selection Committee, even if by the thinnest possible margin of one vote, everyone will line up behind Prof. Roy to heartily welcome Prof Bandyopadhyay to the Director’s Office on the afternoon of July 31, 2015.

Sir, the well at ISI has been severely poisoned; you, and only you, can start the process of cleaning it up. Please do it for yourself, for us, for ISI, and for India, and please do so now.

Respectfully,

Sajal Lahiri, Vandeever Chair, Department of Economics, Southern Illinois University, USA
Sambasivan Amarnath, Shri Advisors LLC, Dayton, USA
Prasad Nanisetty, Princeton, USA
Tapen Sinha, Division of Actuarial Science, Mathematics and Statistics Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico
Srinivas Bhogle, Director, TEOCO Software Pvt. Ltd., Bengaluru
Atul Jain, Chairman and CEO, TEOCO Software Pvt. Ltd., Fairfax, USA
Rabi Ghoshdastidar, Tampa, USA
Arusharka Sen, Quebec, Canada
Suman Majumdar, Department of Statistics, University of Connecticut, USA
Subhashis Raychaudhuri, Newtown, USA
Tarun Dan, Slingerlands, USA
Nilim Roy, Princeton, USA
Gautam Aitch, Albany, USA
Ramanuj Majumdar, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Arindam Sengupta, Department of Statistics, University of Calcutta
Subrata Kundu, Department of Statistics, George Washington University, USA
Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya, Kolkata
Bhaskar Sengupta, Albany, USA
Indranil Chakraborty, Department of Economics, National University of Singapore
Anurag Banerjee, Durham University Business School, UK
Kalpataru Barman, University of California at Berkeley, USA
Pradipta Sarkar, Proctor & Gamble, Singapore
Soumyajit Biswas, Dublin, Ireland
Ayan Sen, Managing Director, Millennium Capital Management, Singapore
Sumanta Basu, Department of Statistics, University of California at Berkeley, USA
Jyotishka Datta, Department of Statistical Science, Duke University, USA
Srijan Sengupta, Department of Statistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA