Has a fund crunch hit ISRO, too?

The successful launch of the navigation satellite IRNSS 1L from Sriharikota last week was yet another major achievement by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is India’s eighth navigation satellite to be placed into orbit and will be part of a series of satellites that are in place now. IRNSS 1L replaces the first satellite in the series, IRNSS 1A, which has not been functioning effectively for some months. The seven satellites together form a navigation system called NavIC which has important uses in many areas. It is an indigenously developed regional navigation and positioning system that is needed for strategic reasons, too. The armed forces cannot depend on the US-controlled Global Positioning System (GPS) in times of hostilities. The US had refused to share GPS data on the region with India during the Kargil war. So, it is important that India keeps its system functional.

The success of IRNSS 1L comes after the disappointment over the failure of communication with the satellite GSAT 6A, which was launched the week before. Links with the satellite were lost after the second orbit-raising operation. Though it was later found and tracked, communication has not been re-established. The mission was important as it was expected to strengthen satellite communications and would have tested some ideas for ISRO’s next moon mission. It was the second failure for ISRO in six months after the PSLV C39 failure, but the space organisation has always come back stronger from its setbacks, learning the right lessons from them.

While the space organisation is doing a stellar job, it is a matter of concern that there are reports about a severe shortage of funds for some of its programmes. ISRO Chairman K Sivan has denied any immediate fund crunch and said that no ongoing activities of the organisation would be affected. But that may not amount to a total denial of the reports, which had said that ISRO will have to re-prioritise seven upcoming missions and allocations had been cut for as many as 10 satellites and as many PSLV missions. The reports had cited a parliamentary panel report to say that the situation is dire. It will be unfortunate if even performing institutions like ISRO have to trim their activities because of a shortage of funds. These reports have followed the concern expressed by the vice-chief of army staff over inadequate fund allocations for the forces. Whether this is because of economic mismanagement by the government, wrong priorities, or both, it will set the country back technologically and militarily. Some explanations are called for.

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