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Updated: January 30, 2012 03:48 IST

Government knew of Devas deal at every stage, says Madhavan Nair

Divya Gandhi
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Former ISRO chief G. Madhavan Nair. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash
The Hindu Former ISRO chief G. Madhavan Nair. Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

Madhavan Nair to seek revocation of order barring him from holding government posts

Indicted over the controversial 2005 Antrix-Devas agreement signed during his tenure as ISRO chairman, G. Madhavan Nair told The Hindu in an interview at his residence on Sunday that several people within the government — not least from the Prime Minister's Office — were well aware of the details of the deal at every stage.

Mid-2005, the Space Commission “cleared” the construction of two satellites for a private company, said Mr. Nair. A note prepared by the Department of Space for the Cabinet Committee on Security in February 2011 said the Space Commission and the Cabinet had not been informed of the Antrix-Devas agreement when their approval for building GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A were sought.

“In the case of GSAT 6 and 6A, there was a clear statement in the note to the Space Commission and the Cabinet to say that the major part of the transponder capacity was to be used by private operators. We do not name the private operator because it could have changed,” said Mr. Nair.

The Space Commission, which is chaired by the ISRO chief, comprised the Cabinet Secretary, the Principal Secretary to the PMO, the National Security Adviser, Member (Finance), and the Additional Secretary, Department of Space, he added.

Under the 2005 contract between Antrix Corporation (ISRO's commercial wing) and the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia, the latter was allowed exclusive use of 70 MHz of the scarce S-band spectrum over a 20-year period for its digital multimedia services; and ISRO was to build two satellites for the company. As the contract was signed without a competitive bidding process, questions were raised about the preferential spectrum allocation. CAG's preliminary estimates placed the loss to the exchequer at over Rs. 2 lakh crore.

The contract was cleared “collectively” by the Board of Antrix which had approved “hundreds” of similar contracts, including those with major players in DTH, said Mr. Nair. The Antrix Board included Member (Finance), who is accountable directly to the Finance Department and also the Joint Secretary of the Department of Space, he said.

“Discussed four times”

Moreover, a Technical Coordination Group appointed by the INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC) to look into the technical aspects of the project, discussed the Devas deal at least four times, he said. This working group — that assessed the frequency used and the judiciousness of spectrum utilisation — comprised representatives from the Department of Telecommunication and the Department of Science and Technology, he said. The ICC, an interdepartmental government agency, was constituted in the 1980s to facilitate the allocation of transponders to users.

The contract with Devas Multimedia was consistent with the satellite communication policy that encouraged private operators to use space-based services, he said. The contract was to work on a ‘first come, first served' basis, he said, when asked about the lack of a bidding process and the apparent privileging of one company.

Mr. Nair said he would appeal to the government to revoke the order barring him from holding government posts over the Antrix-Devas deal. Mr. Nair, who recently stepped down as the chairman of the Board of Governors of IIT-Patna, said: “I am not looking for a government job. But I see [the order] as having tarnished my image.”

He was waiting for a response to his application under the Right to Information Act for the two reports of the two committees set up under the PMO to look into alleged irregularities in the contract. Mr. Nair said he had not yet received the order of January 13 from the Department of Space that banned him and three senior ISRO scientists from holding government posts.

‘Witch-hunt'

“This is a violation of due process. [When there is an alleged irregularity] the first thing you do is inform the party and give them an opportunity to explain. Without any such process, sending the decision summarily is unheard of,” said Mr. Nair, describing the order as “nothing short of a witch-hunt.”

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Interestingly Dr Nair forgot to mention one fact.While all transponder leases are signed by ISRO for and on behalf of the President,Devas is the only contract of its kind ever signed by Antrix.He also forgot to mention that in 2005,Dr Radhakrishnan was Director INCOIs and not in ISRO or the Space Commission.Also only those on the agenda of space commission are debated and minutes issued>Whom is he fooling by saying that there was an oral presentation.A company with 20 lakh share capital,no busineess,consistently loss making got a share premium of 600 Crores.And they sold their interests lock stock and barrel to a foreign company Deutsche Telecom.If Politicians,bureaucrats,industrialists can be sent to Prison what is so special about scientists.Order a CBI inquiry and the truth will come out

from:  vijay
Posted on: Feb 3, 2012 at 21:19 IST

Till afternoon of today it appears that Shri Nair has not received any communication from the Govt. on the imposition of the 'ban'. I will not be surprised if Mr. Narayanaswamy comes out now and says that there no such secret letter and the leaked letter is a fabricated one. Such is the reputation of the present Govt.

from:  Raman V.R
Posted on: Jan 31, 2012 at 15:44 IST

As @lonathoppil aptly said, "first come first served" is a dirty word that this UPA government has used it to their advantage in every area of revenue generation for unleashing sceintific corruption. Reputation of respectable individuals will be methodically and meticulously tarnished by the people who are driving this government from behind and their shameless agents in the process of their self aggrandisement.

from:  Kalyan
Posted on: Jan 31, 2012 at 07:14 IST

The Govt must not have trusted Mr.Nair so much -- if required, the Govt must come out with a strong explanation citing all the valid reasons for imposing the ban. The S-band issue is a clear case of favouritism -- these things happen easily in India because of sycophancy which has penetrated all institutions.

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 19:22 IST

It seems there to be a separate commercial wing if not already functioning who follows the rules and regulations of the organization in every deal.When a project is completed it shall be the job of the commercial wing to find competitive bidders.Let them seek as much information as they need from the devoloping project team about the product.But the scientists should be left free from such commercial jobs,so that they can concentrate on more productive areas like research and development.It shall be applicable in every government department.Let scientists do scientific job and commercial people do commercial job. This types of lapses can be avoided.

from:  Haris madathil
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 18:18 IST

Not everyone is APJ Kalam!!

from:  Amudhan
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 15:54 IST

As one who worked in ISRO for several years I have seen and known Mr.Madhavan Nair closely. Mr.Madhavan Nair accepted Mr.Abdul Kalam as his guru.Everybody in ISRO know that these two people dedicated themselves to work so much that they hardly had anytime for their personal or family lives.But for such dedicated persons India could not have achieved so much in Space Technology , that too major work being executed in government sector. Madhavan Nair's dynamism and strategic approach combined with vision brought glory to ISRO. Achieving 25 successful missions in his tenure is not a joke.In this process if there has been an incidental procedural lapse government or PMO could have handled it in a more respectable manner rather than issuing a ban order tarnishing the image of a legendary scientist like Madhavan Nair and his colleagues. You don't give padma vibhushan to a person one day and issue a ban order one fine morning.

from:  Sudheendra Sonny
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 13:31 IST

I am afraid that everyone is skirting the issue. Mr.Nair's outrage is understandable. But, There is much more than what meets the eye. Whose mouthpiece is Mr.V. Narayanasami, one wonders. This said, one wishes to know why the specific criticisms of the CAG are glossed over. For example, the gift of gold coins! Further, Mr.Nair says that the contract with Devas Multimedia was consistent with the satellite communication policy and that it was to work on a 'first come, first served' basis, when asked about the lack of a bidding process and the apparent privileging of one company. This tries to cloud the issue. What exactly is the satellite communication policy, when it was laid down and by whom and in which way it justified the privileging of one company. The lay public deserves to know the full truth.

from:  Soundararajan Srinivasa
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 11:45 IST

I found it is very strange to come across the situation like this. Auditor general is saying Rupees 2Lakh corers loss to exchequer. Let us assume inaccuracy of these numbers still there is some loss to the government. Government instituted two committees and barred ex ISRO boss from Government Job. Now ISRO boss says it is not me alone there are other bunch of bureaucrats were part of the decision making process. As common man it sounds funny to me. As recent survey found Indian administrators are most inefficient bunch of group in this planet. They do not have technical knowledge, they are the Chamchas to the politicians and recent trend is most corrupt lot. If the space commission is comprise of Cabinet Sec, Principal Sec, NSA, and member finance they also equally responsible for this bungle. They should also suspend immediately if not on corruption on the basis not fit to be holding the role needs knowledge and skill. In western countries you do not expect this be happened.

from:  Rao Kuppili
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 11:18 IST

The Center had solemnly embraced the allegations leveled against many Rajas and continued to protect them till the intervention of the court.It is a petty that betraying natural justice, with out giving an opportunity of being heard Mr.Madhavan Nair was thrown in to the list of third rated politicians. It is common that there is group both in Public and private sector organizations who take decisions on a snails pace passing years by lingering on procedures and protocol. Expect no vibrant decision from their area of operation(decisions happens never taken) But they will follow stealthily if some one act to ensure that they are trapped .No surprise this group will be in front to investigate things in details. They enjoy postmortem. Least bothered about treating the illness even if the patient is in the brim of breathing his last. Everywhere we can find such cocoons of bureaucratic bugs acting from behind like crabs never letting others to scale. It seems Mr. Nair is one of such victim.

from:  Bose A Panicker
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 11:11 IST

Dr. Madhavan Nair's statement : " The contract was to work on a 'first come, first served' basis"......What does it mean? There is a well established process of calling Tenders in this country. And this will definitely going to be a 'strong point' against you SIR. This is going to be a BIGGEST hurdle for this Govt now after 2G. GOI should have made strict watch and document verification before passing this deal.

from:  sandip
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 11:02 IST

First come first served. Dirty words, who ever uses it.

from:  lona thoppil
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 10:32 IST

What Dr Nair is telling is only a tip of an iceberg.I congratulate HINDU to publish the scam in Feb 2011 first.The main issue is the interest of many corporates in S-band.Use of S-band in satellite communication allows uninterrupted communication under any weather conditions unlike Ka or Ku bands as offered by commercial satellite TV operators.Operation in Ka or Ku band gets interrupted during cloudy conditions as all of us see. This incident shows that scope RTI acts must be extended to newer areas of strategic organisations to make them more accountable.

from:  Atis
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 09:56 IST

Classic case of Indian un-educated politics. The people whom they have banned holding government positions (nothing that it is an honor holding it) are one of the very people who actually have put their efforts in innovation and regarded as the pioneers in space science in India. They have already achieved enormous pride by doing what they have already done in their respective fields. India has enormous talent but i have always wondered why we do not produce innovations as other countries does and in order achieve it, one should invest and that's where we are lacking. The people who are holding the top notch ministry positions doesn't even have a clue what they are spearheading (like Kapil Sibbal maestro) and take decisions, which is definitely not from their head. We, the people, are sorry Mr.Nair & Co for electing such dumb idiots.

from:  Shiva
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 09:52 IST

There appears to be some procedural inappropriateness in the whole episode. Before indicting a person or group of persons normally the concerned party/parties need to be given a chance to explain their stand and only when such an explanation is not acceptable then only more serious steps are resorted to. The public at large is legitimately interested to know if any deliberate attempt was made to favour a particular party or is it only an error of judgement.

from:  TN Ramachandran Nair
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 09:27 IST

The people are not going to believe that the then ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair and his high profile team members were responsible for the scam. The deal was cleared 'collectively' by the Board of Antrix, the Commercial wing of ISRO and consented by the Technical Coordination Group of the INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC). Nair had rightly pointed out that In the case of GSAT 6 and 6A, there was a clear statement in the note to the Space Commission and the Cabinet to say that the major part of the transponder capacity was to be used by private operators. Nair is to be appreciated for his vehement response to seek repeal of the order barring him from the current Job as Chairman of IIT - Patna and any other future assignments in government just to uphold his distinguished stature and the image of the esteemed ISRO.

from:  Madan Menon Thottasseri.Chennai
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 09:03 IST

People of this country are literally disgusted with the current regime of incessant Scams. There was no other government ever faced such a frivolous series of depiction of corruption scandals, one after another viz. '2G spectrum,''Commonwealth Games', Adarsh Housing etc. The clandestinely formulated deal was covered up over a period of six years while launching two customized satellites offering 70 MHz of high-value S-band for unfettered commercial exploitation at a outrageously low price to Devas Multimedia Private Limited. Those who read newspapers and follow the stinking reports on the scandals will know that the essence of the S-band spectrum deal concluded in January 2005 between ISRO's commercial wing- Antrix Corporation, and Devas Multimedia was certainly born of the incestuous relationships.

from:  Madan Menon Thottasseri.Chennai
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 09:02 IST

How can Nair compare himself with Galileo? He became ISRO chief on the basis of seniority. His comment that American astronauts who landed on the Moon could not find water but Indian Chandrayan found water exposes his poor knowledge of space. For one thing Moon is a vast planet and American astronauts who landed on the moon in one spot could not see water at a distant edge of the Moon.The NASA built M3 fitted in Chandrayan detected wavelengths of light reflected off the surface that indicated the chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen. With borrowed plumes Nair should not make the foolish boast that their mission discovered water. As early as 1994, the SDI-NASA Clementine spacecraft orbited the Moon and it beamed radio signals into shadowed areas and the reflections seemed to come from icy material. If Nair could boast about such claims, he may stoop to do anything. CAG has reported that ISRO loss is greater than 2G scam.

from:  P.Radhakrishnan
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 08:57 IST

"the first thing you do is inform the party and give them an opportunity to explain...". This does not appear to be an unreasonable expectation from a very senior scientist !

from:  MSVenkataraman
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 06:12 IST

In as much as there are lingering doubts after reading the arguments put forth by the Government and Shri Nair,India's ace space scientist to the controversy which is raking the brains of the ordinary citizen I would request your esteemed readers to let the public know as to how this controversy can be resolved The Govt should come out with judicious decisions instead of allowing the case to be dragged to the courts which is time consuming and a costly affair. The common will soon lose the confidence in the decision making process of the Government if lethargy is allowed to creep in. When the government knew everyting why was it silent all these years. Only the Prime Minister knows the answers and why is he silent. Silence is not always Golden. Timely action is the need of the hour

from:  Subramanian
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 05:47 IST

First the upright general Singh and now the scientist who helped to discover water on the moon. It is time for Dr.Singh to go on long holidays. All wrong decisions.

from:  JAY JOLLY
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 04:35 IST

It appears that the people concerned did not know the importance of the spectrum they were giving. Perhaps even Mr.Nair was not aware of it's importance. This kind of ignorance in common with our scientists who are so highly specialized that they do not have an idea of the overall picture. Before the deal was signed, wider consultation should have been done with other Ministries.The punishment meted out to the scientists should have taken this factor into account.

from:  S N IYER
Posted on: Jan 30, 2012 at 04:25 IST
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