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IIPS director’s resignation accepted, wheels for exit set in motion months ago | India News

A SET OF unusual complaints — from bribing a fruit seller to purchase of mobiles to a staff member writing for a Beijing think tank — against the functioning of the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) set off an inquiry by the government and led to the suspension of its director and noted demographer KS James in July this year.

IIPS is the nodal agency to provide coordination and technical guidance for the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). The NFHS provides key information at both state and district levels across various domains, including population, health, women’s issues, child nutrition, and other topics closely tied to the welfare initiatives of the government.

On October 11, the Union Health Ministry finally accepted the resignation of James that he had submitted two months earlier, on August 7. The same day, the Union Health Ministry also issued an order revoking his suspension. James is now a senior research scholar at the Population and Just Societies Programme at the International Institute for Applied System Analysis in Austria.

In fact, a fact-finding committee (FFC) set up by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had found that of the 35 issues raised in complaints against James – by an obscure organisation called the Jai Bhim Army and others – 24 didn’t need further inquiry. These include James’s own appointment, women safety at the workplace, biometric attendance, waiving off guest house charges for a professor, and uneven distribution of work. Only 11 “require further inquiry and/ or disciplinary proceedings”, the committee said.

James was not available for comment to The Indian Express, but sources said he submitted a detailed clarification to the health ministry rebutting all allegations, and specifically addressing concerns raised by the Jai Bhim Army, in May.

Festive offer

It was on April 28 that a complaint against James by the Jai Bhim Army landed on the desk of a health ministry official. The ministry set up the FFC on May 8, and on July 28, James was suspended. The ministry had then maintained this “is not a punishment but to pave the way for fair and free investigation”. Nine days after being suspended, James resigned, which was accepted over two months later on October 11.

James took over as the IIPS director in November 2018. Prior to that, he was a Professor of Population Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and also served as Professor and Head of the Population Research Centre at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru.

The fifth NFHS was released in 2022, while the sixth is underway. It had, among other findings, highlighted a gap in child nutrition – it found that 89 per cent of children between the formative ages of 6-23 months do not receive a “minimum acceptable diet’’. This was only marginally better than the 90.4 per cent recorded in NFHS-4.

A day after James’s suspension, the Health Ministry issued a brief note. Amongst other things, it said, “The FFC found prima facie irregularities in 11 of the 35 complaints received… The charges are serious and grave in nature, and director, IIPS (James) being the head of the Institute also is directly and indirectly responsible for failure to exercise adequate supervision. He also, it seems, failed to detect these irregularities promptly and take corrective action in a timely manner…”

The suspension, it said, was for 90 days or completion of further investigation, whichever is earlier, which is revocable with the approval of Suspension Revocation Committee/Review Committee in the Ministry.

Fact-finding committee’s recommendations

* On discrimination against SC/ST, PWD, EWS students, faculty and non-faculty: Clear lapses in the reservation and roster registers since 1997. These need further inquiry for disciplinary action for the said period.

* On appointment to a post of telephone operator: Detailed enquiry for taking disciplinary action.

* On appointment of a Hindi officer: Adequate opportunity not provided.

* On fruit seller’s allegation that IIPS’s Chief Administrative Officer placed an order of “80 plates of fruit salad” as a bribe after he raised the issue of corruption against IIPS authorities: Further action as appropriate.

* On allegations of Dr Srinivas Goli writing for SPCIS (Saint Pierre Center for International Security – a Beijing think tank): Programmes Division of the IIPS instructed “to reiterate necessary directions for enforcing discipline in matters of publishing research papers and interviews to foreign entities”. On complaint of “data leaking to the foreign think tank”: “The respondent has mentioned that the data available in public domain has been used for the article… since this could be a matter of serious concern about national security, separate investigation in the matter recommended.” When contacted, Goli declined to comment. A senior official close to Goli said that in his article for SPCIS, Goli had not utilised any data from Indian authorities.

* On allegations of corruption in new building: The complaint may be examined by CVO, CPWD.

* On purchase of mobiles given to two staff members: Special audit team needs further inquiry in light of the extant GOI rules.

The FFC also noted “serious administrative lapse for not maintaining proper dead stock registers as per extant rules. This is a case of further inquiry against the concerned registrars… and the supervisory negligence of concerned directors…” It also stated that “explanation may be sought from IIPS regarding excess purchase of laptops…”

James’s defence

In response to allegations of discrimination against SC/ST and PWD students, James is learnt to have said the admission committee strictly adheres to UGC regulations. The related information is uploaded to the UGC website in accordance with established norms, he is learnt to have communicated to the health ministry.

As per sources, he said IIPS refrains from mentioning students’ caste when publishing results online. Regarding corruption allegations surrounding a new building, sources said James advised that the matter be directed to the CPWD.

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Sources said James also underscored in his communication that Group A posts, including faculty positions, are overseen by the top offices within the Ministry of Health. The interview committee responsible for these posts is either led by the health secretary or a nominee designated by him. As for group C&D staff, James reportedly communicated that selection is based purely on test scores.

Sources said that on the subject of project-based appointments, James clarified the director and senior professor constitute the appointment committee. This committee, which includes principal investigator and a faculty member, in turn handles project appointments.

James is also learnt to have conveyed that the institute employs fewer than five consultants, all of whom are based in Mumbai.

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