Renowned astrophysicist spends month in jail

Renowned astrophysicist spends month in jail

Astrophysicist Ram Sagar, who headed a Himalayan observatory almost for a decade and was associated with Bengaluru's Indian Institute of Astrophysics before that, spent little more than a month in jail for two administrative lapses, as the scientific community watched helplessly at the bizarre turn of events.

Sagar, former director of Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) in Nainital, was sent to jail by a special CBI court in Dehradun on October 28 after he appeared before the trial court. He was granted bail by the Uttarakhand High Court on December 2, and finally released from prison on December 4.

His prison stay coincided with a personal tragedy: His mother died while he was in jail. Soon after release, the scientist went straight to his native village, said sources.

The last one and a half years were tumultuous for Sagar, who was instrumental in setting up a 3.6-m telescope in the Himalayas, which is expected to be operational in 2015. Once ready, the Rs 140-crore Devasthal optical instrument would be India's most powerful telescope to watch stars.

Sagar's own stars, however, were not right, as he faced a public interest litigation (PIL) at Uttarakhand High Court in Nainital, a department of science and technology and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) enquiry, and finally a Central Bureau of Investigation probe.

The 45-charge PIL was filed by a disgruntled employee of ARIES—formerly known as UP State Observatory—whom Sagar fired as institute director.

An investigation of the charges, first by a two-member committee of the department of science and technology and later by the CVC, unearthed certain administrative lapses on Sagar's part, but both reports observed that there was no intention of criminality.

Not satisfied, the high court asked the CBI to probe the charges again. The agency found merit in only two charges: appointment of an engineer one grade higher than the advertised post, and use of incorrect indices while calculating the cost of a civil construction, resulting in excess payment of Rs 70 lakh.

The contractor is ready to refund the excess payment, subject to the court's approval.

A retired Army officer who served as third-party assessor of the project was also jailed with Sagar.

As two separate cases were made out by the CBI, two bail orders from Justice Alok Singh came on November 21 and December 2. “He was a victim of office politics,” S K Joshi, chairman of ARIES governing council and former CSIR director general, told Deccan Herald.

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