Explained: The saga that led to the govt forcing out IIPS Director KS James

It was reported that some of the data that was presented by the IIPS, headed by James, were contradictory to claims made by the Narendra Modi-led Union Government, including claims that India was an open-defecation free country.
KS James, former IIPS director
KS James, former IIPS director
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On October 11, the Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare, revoked the suspension order of KS James, who served as the director of International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS). But hours later, the Ministry accepted his resignation, which he had submitted in August this year. 

James, who is considered as one of the topmost researchers in the field of population studies, was appointed as director of IIPS in October 2018. Prior to this, he was working as a professor of population studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. 

On July 28, James was temporarily suspended by the Union Health Ministry citing irregularities with regards to recruitment of faculty. According to The Wire, the Union Ministry had released an unsigned and undated statement following the suspension of James. The statement said that a fact-finding committee had found that 11 out of the 35 complaints received against James were alleged to be true. “The irregularities were mainly regarding [the] lapses observed in certain appointments, recruitments of faculty, Reservation Roasters, Dead Stock registers, etc. (sic),” said the statement by the Ministry. 

However, the Ministry did not reveal what were the charges which the committee found to be true or when the complaints against the former IIPS director were received. 

The IIPS is an institute which comes under the Union Health Ministry and is responsible for carrying out important studies like that of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the Assessment of National Rural Health Mission and the Global Adult Tobacco Survey.

According to The Wire, an official at the Department of Public Health and Mortality Studies of the IIPS had said that James was first asked by the Government to resign as it was not happy with some of the data sets that the Institute had presented. Some of the data were contradictory to claims made by the Narendra Modi-led Union Government, including the government’s claims that India was an open defecation free country. It is said that James was handed over a suspension order after he refused to resign from the post. 

However, without clarifying what the outcome of the fact finding committee was, the Union Ministry on October 11, had issued an order revoking the suspension. It doesn’t even mention whether the allegations raised against James were found to be untrue. 

The order, which revoked his suspension merely said that, “The competent authority, on subsequent review, is of the opinion that in view of material changes in the circumstances, the suspension of Prof. K. S. James may not be extended further”. But on the same day, the Ministry also said that it is accepting James’ resignation, which he had tendered on August 7 on “personal grounds”. 

Members of the Opposition and scientific community had criticised the Union Government for their intolerance towards data-based evidence on development. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, on Monday, October 17, said that James’ suspension was based on “flimsiest of charges” and that its subsequent revocation following him tendering his resignation is part of the government’s “face-saving charade”.

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