Opposition parties have criticised the Centre for suspending KS James, the director of the International Institute for Population Sciences, saying that the Narendra Modi government cannot work with those who do not meet its “test of ideological purity”, The Hindu reported on Sunday.

The Wire had reported on July 28 that James has been suspended, citing an irregularity in his recruitment. The suspension order came after the government had asked James to resign, expressing its reservations about certain data sets that emerged in surveys conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences, an official at the institution, told The Wire.

James, however, had refused to tender his resignation.

On Sunday, Congress General Secretary (Communications) Jairam Ramesh said it was unfortunate that India’s “most eminent demographers” is being treated in this manner.

“It is possible that the Modi government is unhappy with some results of the NHFS-5 [National Family Health Survey] and wants to put off NHFS-6, which was to have commenced in June 2023, indefinitely,’’ Ramesh told The Hindu.

Some of the findings of the National Family Health Survey-5 were at odds with claims made by the Narendra Modi government. The survey has punched holes in the prime minister’s claims of the country being open defecation free.

The survey had also painted a poor picture of the government’s flagship Ujjwala scheme for cooking gas cylinders, as it showed that 40% of Indian households did not have access to clean fuels. Other findings of the survey include stunted growth among Indians and an alarming child mortality rate in Uttar Pradesh.

Ramesh said that since the Union health ministry’s internal committees have cleared James of any wrongdoing, it indicate that the action against him have been taken on “political considerations”, reported The Hindu.

Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha MP Jawhar Sircar said that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government was afraid of a realistic picture painted by the surveys.

“NFHS brought out uncomfortable data which punctured the rosy picture that the government wants us to believe it has created,” he said. “It’s time that the reality of India is presented to the public”

Revolutionary Socialist Party MP NK Premachandran also said that the government was uncomfortable with facts that came out of the survey, reported The Hindu.

“It‘s undemocratic, shows the Centre’s dictatorship-like attitude, and is an attempt to hide the real face of India,’’ he said, adding that James has been “made a scapegoat”.

A senior scientist who did not want to be identified told the newspaper that “nobody is surprised by the move”.

The International Institute for Population Sciences works under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. It conducts important studies like the National Family Health Survey, the Assessment of National Rural Health Mission and the Global Adult Tobacco Survey.

Probe on against KS James

A day after The Wire reported about James’ suspension, the health ministry released a statement claiming that a fact-finding committee has found irregularities against the professor.

In view of the alleged irregularities, an investigation had been ordered and James was placed under suspension, the ministry said, reported The Wire. “The irregularities were mainly regarding [the] lapses observed in certain appointments, recruitment of faculty, reservation roasters, dead stock registers, etc,” it said.

The statement said that the fact-finding committee was formed on May 8 after irregularities alleged in 11 of the 35 complaints were found to be true on a prima facie basis. However, the health ministry did not specify when the complaints were filed or when the incidents happened.

A source told The Wire that the International Institute for Population Sciences has not yet received the final report of the fact-finding committee. “We are not aware of what those 11 charges are,” the source added.