April 05 2020
ISRO officials indicted for Antrix-Devas deal
04 February 2012

A five-member team that probed a controversial deal between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) commercial arm Antrix Corporation and Devas Multimedia has concluded that former chairman of the space agency, G Madhavan Nair, and three other scientists were responsible for the contract.

The other three are A Bhaskaranarayana, former scientific secretary at ISRO, KR Sridharamurthi, former executive director of Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO, and K.N Shankara, former director of the ISRO satellite centre.

The committee, chaired by former central vigilance commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha, concluded that there have been serious lapses of judgement on the part of various officials, and in some cases the actions verged on the point of breach of public trust.

As per the deal, Antrix was to provide 70 MHz S-Band spectrum to Devas, which is into multimedia services. Antrix would provide the spectrum by leasing out transponders of two satellites to be built mainly for Devas.

The comptroller and auditor general (CAG) estimated the loss to the exchequer to the tune of Rs 2 lakh crore because of the deal. The centre later scrapped the controversial deal.

ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan had recently announced that the reports of two committees that looked into the controversial deal would be made public.

And late Saturday, ISRO uploaded on its website the conclusions and recommendations of the Sinha Committee, the full high powered review committee report by BK Chaturvedi and Roddam Narasimha, and a statement on both the committees and the follow up action on their recommendations.

Holding Nair, Bhaskaranarayana, Sridharamurthi and Shankara as mainly responsible for leading the Department of Space (DOS) and Antrix for the contract, the Sinha committee has recommended to the government taking action against them under the relevant sections of pension rules or any other provisions of law.

The committee also recommended actions under pension rules against retired officials S.S. Meenakshisundaram and Veena Rao, and against G. Balachandran and R.G. Nadadur under the relevant service rules.

It also recommended investigation by an appropriate agency to look into the changing pattern of ownership of Devas, the illegal financial benefit derived by individuals and officials, and the extent to which the increased valuation of Devas shares were encashed by individuals.

The committee also recommended investigation into the shareholding pattern of Devas and that of two Mauritius-based companies owing shares in Devas.

According to the committee, there was no consultation with any other central government department including the department of telecommunications on the utility of the technology that would deliver multimedia and information services through satellite and terrestrial systems to mobile receivers, and regulatory requirements for the proposed services before committing to build two satellites for the deal.

The Sinha committee said the INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC) for the overall management of INSAT system and the recommending body for satellite utilisation by non-government users had not met 2004.

Earmarking two satellites for the Antrix-Devas deal without consulting ICC is a clear violation of the government policy.

While the policy is to allow use of satellites by non-government users on non-exclusive basis, the Antrix deal with Devas provides for exclusive use of two custom-built satellites leaving no scope for alternate use.

The Sinha Committee said the approval process for the deal was riddled with incomplete and inaccurate information given to the Union cabinet and the Space Commission.

The date of agreement signed with Devas -- Jan 28, 2005 -- was not disclosed to the space commission or in the cabinet note in which sanction for building GSAT-6, one of the two satellites, was sought.

The cabinet note gives an erroneous impression that ISRO was in receipt of several expressions of interest for the utilisation of the satellite capacity on commercial terms.

The committee said the existence of an agreement with Devas was not disclosed to the cabinet when sanction was sought to build the second satellite GSAT-6A.

On the argument that there was no need to involve the Space Commission in the Devas deal as the decision was taken by Antrix, the Sinha Committee said the commitment was to spend Rs.766 crore for launching and operating the satellites.

The committee also concluded that the terms of the contract was heavily loaded in favour of Devas and asked why the latter with its registered office in Bangalore was considered as an international customer for the purpose of arbitration.

According to the committee, any international agreement signed by a government department with arbitration clause has to be cleared by the legal cell of the department concerned and by the ministry of finance.

This was not done in the Antrix-Devas deal.

The central government on Jan 13 had banned Nair, Bhaskaranarayana, Shankara and Sridharamurthi, from holding any government jobs or any membership in a government committee.

Nair, who had been awarded Padma Bhushan in 1998 and Padma Vibhushan in 2009, said ISRO's current chairman Radhakrishnan was behind the government's ban order.

He said he was not given an opportunity to present his case before the ban order was issued by the government.



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