IITians not joining ISRO, 60% students walked out of a recruitment drive after seeing pay structure: S Somanath

ISRO Chairman S Somnath
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The space agency chief said that the IITians probably start with the salary, which is highest at the ISRO.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has not been getting the best of talents from the country’s prestigious engineering colleges – the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – due to pay structure, according to space agency’s chairman Dr S Somanath. “Our best talents are supposed to be engineers and they are supposed to be IITians,” he said in an interview with Asianet News. “But, they are not joining ISRO. If we go and try to recruit from IIT, no one joins.”

There are, he added, few people who think space is important – “such people join”. “But not many and percentage is hardly less than 1 per cent or even lower,” said Somanath, under whose watch India scripted history by becoming the fourth country to land on the Moon and the first country to touch down on the south pole region.

The ISRO chief shared an example of what happened when his team went to one of the IITs to recruit engineers. “They (team) were presenting to them the career opportunity. After career opportunities and type of work, they presented the salary structure of the Isro system. The students who were sitting there saw the highest pay that they could ever get in the ISRO. That was it. After seeing the presentation, 60 per cent of people walked out,” Somanath said.

The space agency chief said that the IITIans probably start with the salary, which is highest at the ISRO. Last month, business tycoon Harsh Goenka in a tweet said that the salary of Somanath, who is at the top post at ISRO and also the secretary of the Department of Space, was Rs 2.5 lakh – which is the average placement package in top IITs. The ISRO has different salary structures for different posts but the starting salary for engineers is nearly Rs 56,100.  

This trend of IITians preferring fat packages was also highlighted by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor after the success of Chandrayaan-3. He said Somanath was a product of Kerala’s TKM College of Engineering and many of his colleagues graduated from the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram (CET). At least seven more engineers from CET were involved in the success of Chandrayaan-3, he further said. 

“Indians are rightly obsessed with the IITs, but let’s salute the alumni of unsung engineering colleges who serve the public sector with dedication & who are the backbone of national enterprises like @ISRO,” Tharoor said. “IITians went to Silicon Valley; CETians took us to the moon!” 

Somanath said the money can not attract people at ISRO and that the space agency was hiring adequate talent to do the work it was doing. He underlined a difference between the ‘best talent’ and ‘adequate talent’. He said thousands of students don’t get the opportunity to write exams for the IITs but they are equally talented.  

“Talents are spread out over a very wide spectrum of social strata…thousands and lakhs of people who have the competency of that (IIT) nature don’t get the opportunity (to sit for the IIT exam),” Somanath said, adding that he was one of them. “When I was a student I never had the opportunity to write an entrance to go to IIT. That does not mean that I was not a knowing person. Lakhs of such people are not writing the IIT examination.”

Somanath’s revelation that less than one per cent of IITians join ISRO has sparked a debate, with some suggesting that many talents should join the space agency as their education at IITs is heavily subsidised. However, some also backed students saying money is the main attraction for everyone. “I believe ISRO has to make packages attractive for the freshers of IITs,” said one Anmol Sharma.

Samridh Joshi, an IIT Kanpur alumnus, said that most people are looking for a good salary when they come from a reputed college. “You can find people who will do this out of sheer love for the nation but they are very low. The government is also at a huge fault here.”

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