‘The controversy erupted after the success of Chandrayaan mission'
The former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, G. Madhavan Nair, on Friday said he would not discount the possibility of an international conspiracy in raking up a controversy over the Antrix-Devas deal, targeting the nation's top scientists.
At a meet-the-press, organised by the Kesari Memorial Journalists' Trust here, he said India's reputation as a space-faring nation had gone up by leaps and bounds after the success of the Chandrayaan mission. It was significant that the controversy over the deal erupted at that moment.
He recalled that the ISRO spy scandal [which vilified the names of some top scientists earlier apparently without any reason] had come out in the open just after the success of the PSLV mission.
Asked whether the present ISRO chief was among those behind the ongoing ‘conspiracy' against him and the other three space scientists, who had become persona non-grata for Indian science following the controversy, he said: “I have read somewhere that the true colour of a person can be seen only when he rises to the position where he is in complete charge and wields absolute power.”
Mr. Nair said before he stepped down as chairman in 2009, the organisation had charted out the road map for the country's space programme till 2030. Even the full allocation of funds for space research was not being utilised now. “My information is fund utilisation has been only around 65 per cent of the allocation last year.”
G. Krishnakumar and S. Anandan report from Kochi:
Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Nair decried the perceived absence of ‘transparent review' in the cancellation of the Antrix-Devas agreement.
Mr. Nair said that in a letter to Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanasamy, he demanded the constitution of a committee with at least 50 per cent representation from the technical community to ‘comprehensively review' the entire issue.
Alleging procedural lapses on the part of the Department of Space (DoS) in cancelling the deal in a jiffy, Mr. Nair said if the department had not agreed with the B.N. Suresh Committee, it could have conducted an internal or an external review. “The ISRO is known for the strength of its reviews. The apex ISRO Council, headed by the chairman and comprising all senior members, could have discussed it. But that was not done.”
The Space Commission, he said, would have asked an equivalent of the Chaturvedi Committee to probe the deal, had it discussed the issue. “In a meeting [of the Space Commission] lasting about two hours, they decided, based on a one-sided story, to cancel the contract without looking at its merits. The merits were brought out later by the committee.”
Probably, the only omission could be the Cabinet note that read ‘many parties including Devas.' “But I can cite you at least half-a-dozen satellites built during this period, never once was it said that private parties were going to use them… We have given capacities to Tata Sky, Sun TV, Zee TV, Dish TV, etc… All of them took transponders from Antrix. We did not go to the government for that approval.”
Citing instances of allocating 100 per cent satellite capacity to a single private player, he said that though the Devas deal had earmarked 90 per cent capacity of a satellite to Devas, ISRO had the option of launching one more set of satellites [subject to requirement].
The SATCOM policy, he said, was to ensure complete customer satisfaction in return for proper revenue. “We do not make a loss in the business even when hiring foreign satellites.”
Devas was chosen on a first come, first served basis, as there were not many private players in the field. Further, Devas' U.S. partner was holding half-a-dozen patents [in DTH-related technology]. “They wanted to marry cellphone technology to television technology and were in talks with some European firms for this…So we had taken the risk [of entering into the agreement].”
The technical risk involved in the deal, he said, was vis-?-vis Devas building of high-tech instruments such as receivers. “They built a receiver, and a prototype was brought to India in 2008. We used it in one of our existing satellites for doing some trials, which were successful. So they also invested in groundbreaking technology. Something which we were not aware of then was [the fact] that Devas had diluted its share by selling it to foreign companies. But then, you do not look at how a private fellow does his business.”
He maintained that the deal had not caused the government any loss, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) missed a major point. Space spectrum was different from terrestrial spectrum. “If you calculate Rs. 20,000 crore as the ground spectrum value, the space sector would be hardly Rs.20 crore.