Something fishy...

A security threat

Arunachalam speaks

Arunachalam speaks II

Case for the defense

In the face of allegations of irregularities and favouritism in the Sankhya Vahini project, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has stood solidly behind the scientists from Carnegie Mellon University Dr Raj Reddy and Dr V S Arunachalam and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

But despite opposition from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief K S Sudarshan, and reservations expressed by several ministers to the project, the government has not responded to the allegations. Instead, the Prime Minister's Office has termed the RSS accusations as "unfounded" and left it at that.

The government claims that the Sankhya Vahini project still gives the best deal for India in this era of information technology.

But when the RSS became really strident, the Prime Minister's Office issued a note saying the Task Force on Information Technology decided ti get the venture going at a meeting chaired by Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu on September 5, 1998.

The cabinet subsequently approved this decision and announced that Sankhya Vahini would be launched as a technology mission so that its targets are met with in a stipulated time.

The government says Sankhya Vahini is a technology mission because it is meant to establish a high-speed data network in India for the benefit of educational institutions, public and private corporations, service providers, individuals for learning, training, research and other multimedia activities.

Sankhya Vahini India Limited is to have eight directors -- three nominated by the department of telecom services, three by partner IUNet and one by the participating Indian institutions.

A PMO official said the objections to Sankhya Vahini were baseless since the project had to follow regulations and terms and conditions laid down in the Internet Service Provider licensing agreement between the licensing authority and ISPs in India. It also would have to follow any order issued by the government from time to time.

"The Sankhya Vahini network will not also use its network for voice telephony unless permitted by the government. So the question of violating the country's security does not arise," he said.

"But opposition to Sankhya Vahini is just opposition for political mileage. Every political party -- even the RSS -- is for the project. Their objection is not to the project, but to the institute and the men behind it," the official said, adding: "Every one believes the government has favoured one company, IUNet, without allowing for any tenders or bidding."

In the eye of the storm, thus, is Carnegie Mellon University.

The government's explanation is that CMU has a record of fruitful collaborations with a number of Indian universities and organizations and has ongoing research programs focusing on India's economic and technological development. CMU has also undertaken millions of dollars of collaborative research on issues of Indian technology and infrastructure.

If CMU is a prestigious institute, the two Indians part of the project from there aren't small fry either.

Dr Raj Reddy is the Herbert A Simon University Professor of Computer Science and Robotics in the School of Computer Science at CMU. He began his academic career as an assistant professor at Stanford in 1966 and joined Carnegie Mellon as an associate professor of computer science in 1969. He is the founding Director of CMU's Robotics Institute.

Dr Reddy's research interests include the study of human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence. His current research projects include spoken language systems, invisible computing, gigabit networks, universal digital libraries and distance learning on demand.

But his biggest claim to fame these days is that he is a member and co-chair of the US President's Information Technology Advisory Committee.

Dr V S Arunachalam is a distinguished service professor at the Robotics Institute of the university. His research interests include light wave communications and fiber-to-home technologies for Internet Protocol, and IP-based enabling technologies for education and economic growth.

He has done a series of studies on infrastructure technologies and policy issues in growing economies, on electric power issues in India with a focus on alternate energy options, including biomass-based electricity generation, on technology and national security. In materials science and engineering too he has done pioneering work.

While Arunachalam is not famous for his work at CMU, he is well known in India because he headed the Defence Research Development Organisation and was scientific advisor to the defence minister.

Why did Vajpayee chose these two eminent scientists to lay the foundation of Sankhya Vahini network in India when the government could have chosen world-famous names like AT&T for similar work? The answer is that it was not Vajpayee, but Chandrababu Naidu who convinced the government to rope in the two eminent CMU scientists.

Dr Reddy is today the chairman of IUNet while Dr Arunachalam is a director on the board.

When contacted, the office of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Naidu asserted that the charges against the project were baseless but said only Dr Arunachalam could answer our queries. A request to Dr Raj Reddy met with the same answer.

And when finally got in touch with Dr Arunachalam, he said there were many misconceptions about the project that he would correct. And he set about trying to do so in an interview:

Next: The Arunachalam interview

Design: Rajesh Karkera

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