More than 800 top academicians, scientists, researchers and students from top institutions have expressed concerns about the suspension of Professor K S James, who is the director of the International Institute of Population Studies and shot a letter to Union Health Minister on Wednesday urging him to withdraw his suspension ‘before the country’s data credibility is seriously damaged.’
The letter, addressed to Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, includes 815 names including Ravi Srivastava, professor (retd.), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); Ravi Duggal, independent consultant and researcher; Mohan Rao, professor (retd.), JNU; Amar Jesani, independent consultant and researcher, Imrana Qadeer, professor (retd.), JNU; Apoorvanand, professor at University of Delhi and several others from across JNU, IIPS, IIT- Bombay, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Univ-ersity of Hyderabad, University of Kerala, Indian Statistical Institute, Aligarh Muslim University and other institutions in the country and abroad.
When contacted, professor Ravi Srivasatava told The Indian Express that they felt strongly about the suspension and that it was uncalled for. “We know professor James has strong credentials and placing him under suspension, through an email, without communicating any showcause notice or specific charges, is shocking,” he said.
“We believe, that in suspending Prof. James, a person of impeccable personal and academic integrity, the government is trying to make him a scapegoat for findings from the NFHS which question the official narrative on some issues, and for which he is neither directly nor indirectly responsible. This act places India in the ranks of those countries which do not allow independent surveys to raise questions on government narratives. It will also create serious suspicion, both nationally and internationally, on the reliability of the next round of NFHS (NFHS-6), which is already currently underway under his leadership,” reads the letter.
Professor Srivastava said professor James is a demographer and scholar of the highest global repute. Professor James led the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey, which was carried out during 2019-21, including the very difficult pandemic year of 2020-21, said Srivasatava.
While the survey has thrown up very significant information on the health and demographic variables at the district level, it has been used by NITI Aayog to estimate changes in multi-dimensional poverty, said academicians. “It is well known that NFHS and NSS data has been questioned in certain circles but our question is why fix responsibility on one person,” asked professor Srivastava.
“NFHS is a large sample survey and there has been progress in several areas, such as child and maternal mortality. However, findings from the survey on issues such as sanitation and use of toilets have been questioned and doubts have been expressed on the reliability of the data,” said professor Srivastava.