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The ISRO/Antrix – Devas Deal

February 7, 2014

The Antrix – Devas deal:

Yet another instance of corruption in the UPA II regime has been uncovered. This time it involves the esteemed establishment Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the former chairman of the space agency G Madhavan Nair. The questionable deal is the proposed contract between the ISRO’s commercial wing Antrix, which was supposed to provide the multimedia company Devas with 70MHz S–band spectrum. The initial understanding was, Antrix would supply the S–band spectrums through a lease of the transponders of two satellites designed exclusively for Devas. The deal was later shelved by the Central Government. As per the estimates of the Comptroller and the Auditor General of India (CAG), the controversial deal had incurred a revenue loss of approximately Rs. 2 lakh crore for the Government of the nation.

Investigations into the disputed Antrix – Devas deal:

There had been two separate committees supervising the investigation into the controversial deal. The Government had set up the High Powered Review Committee (HPRC) on February 2011 consisting of B K Chaturvedi and Professor Roddam Narasimha for investigating the irregularities in the Antrix–Devas deal. While the final Investigation reports of the HPRC came in on March 2011, the Prime Minister had continued investigations into the deal through the implementation of a five-member High Level Team (HLT), headed by the former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), Pratyush Sinha. The Sinha Commission investigation reports had indicated that the deal had serious distortions, almost bordering on the violations of the good faith and confidence of the public.

As per the reports of the Sinha Commision, the chief alleged in the deal, other than G Madhavan Nair, happens to be A Bhaskaranarayana (former scientific secretary at ISRO), K R Sridharamurthi (former executive director of Antrix) and K N Shankara (former director of the ISRO satellite centre). The main accusation against these former high level ISRO personnel is one of manipulating the Department of Space (DOS) and the Antrix into entering a contract with Devas for personal financial benefits. Based on its findings, the Sinha Committee has suggested to the Government strict penalties against the chief indicted in the deal, which might even extend to their pension facilities. Strict measures have also been suggested against retired ISRO personnel S S Meenakshisundaram and Veena Rao (under pension laws), and G Balachandran and R G Nadadur (under service codes). The Sinha Commission had also made recommendations for a competent investigative agency to probe into the pattern in which the multimedia company Devas had changed ownership, and the illicit personal profits made by the impeached officials and individuals. The share holdings of Devas and the two Mauritius-based companies with stakes in Devas are also supposed to be under acute scrutiny by the legal authorities.

Some of the irregularities of the Antrix – Devas contract as indicated in the Sinha Commission report:

The findings of the Sinha Committee pertaining to the Antrix–Devas deal are undoubtedly implicating and serious. According to the reports of the committee, no Central Government Departments including the Department of Telecommunications were ever informed or consulted before finalizing the contract with the multimedia company Devas, regarding the minutes of the deal.

The INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC) is vested with the responsibility of overall supervision and management of the INSAT system of satellites. ICC also functions as the ultimate authority to grant permissions for the usage of satellite facilities by private or non–Governmental entities. Even the ICC was kept in the dark regarding the details of the Antrix–Devas deal. The communication satellites which are national properties had been earmarked for the private use of Devas, in an open defiance to the mandates of the ICC. Even the approval for the deal from the Space Commission and the UPA II cabinet had been secured on the basis of misleading documentation riddled with loopholes. Also the sanctions for designing the satellites, GSAT–6 and GSAT–6A (the two custom-built satellites for the proposed lease to Devas), are clouded with disputes. To top it all, the controversial deal never had the necessary clearance from the concerned departments and the Ministry of Finance.

Reaction of ISRO and ex – ISRO Chief G Madhavan Nair:

On the specific instructions of the present Chairman of ISRO, K Radhakrishnan, decision had been taken to make the findings and the inferences of the two committees public. Accordingly, ISRO had uploaded the contents of the Sinha Commission report and the HPRC report in the ISRO website. As of February 3rd, 2014, ISRO, however, demurred to disclose the written communications made by its former director G Madhvan and the other indicted officials pertaining to the findings of the two investigative committees. Dubbing such letters as ‘personal’, ISRO has argued that the disclosure of such documents may hamper a neutral investigation and the impeachment of the actual perpetrators.

A committee formed by ISRO in February 2012, had already banned the former ISRO Chief G Madhavan Nair and his accomplices, accused of involvement in the dubious Antrix–Devas deal, from holding any Government portfolios. Nair, however, blames the present ISRO Chairman Radhakirshnan, for his disbarment by ISRO in congruence with the Government. In a recent interview to the media, Nair had termed the entire accusations against him as ‘the stupidest thing to happen to anybody’.

Conclusion:

It is to be mentioned here that former ISRO Chief Nair is an accomplished man, who had been accredited with the Padma Bhushan Award (1998) and Padma Vibhushan Award (2009), for his achievements. It is obvious the success may have gone to his head. So, he and his accomplices had probably decided to use the ISRO facilities to make a little money on the side through the illicit leasing of the communications satellites to private companies like Devas. Thankfully, the deal was scuttled in time or else the simple launching and operating of the two proposed satellites would have cost the Government an additional loss in the exchequers to the tune of a whopping Rs. 766 crore!

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