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.
“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.”