The delay in taking a final decision on Antrix-Devas deal was only procedural

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said there was “no question of diluting in any way the recommendations of the Space Commission” that has favoured annulment of the controversial deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation's commercial arm, the Antrix Corporation, and Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd.

Pointing out that the delay in taking a final decision on the deal was “only procedural,” Dr. Singh, who met a group of editors from the news channels here, said the matter was expected to be put before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for a final decision soon.

“Though there has been some delay in processing, this was only procedural. The fact is that the contract was not operational in any practical sense, and there was no question of diluting any way the recommendations of the Space Commission,” the Prime Minister said while responding to the charge that some “backroom” talks were going on between the Prime Minister's Office and the Devas to save the deal.

He also clarified that the PMO received a Cabinet note (on the issue) only in November 2010 from the Department of Space for termination of the contract with the Devas. “The Ministries concerned have all had the opportunity to express their viewpoints as is required before any policy decision can be taken by government at the level of the Cabinet…Eventually, it has been decided that the government should take a sovereign policy decision (to scrap the deal),” Dr. Singh said while clarifying UPA government's position on the deal.

As per the agreement signed between the Antrix and the Devas in 2005, the ISRO was to launch two satellites and lease 90 per cent of the transponders' capacity to the Bangalore-based firm for 20-years, thus giving access to 70 MHz of scarce S-band spectrum valued at around Rs.2-lakh crore. While the Law Ministry approved cancellation of the deal in 2009, the Space Commission also recommended the same in July last.

The Prime Minister, however, conceded that some meetings did take place among the Devas and officials of the Department of Space, the ISRO and the Antrix after the Space Commission's last year's recommendations. “However, no further actions were taken by the Department of Space or the ISRO on implementing the agreement. No assurances were given in contravention of the recommendations of the Space Commission,” he added.

Acknowledging that the Space Commission and the PMO officials received several letters from the Devas after August 2010 (following the Space Commission's recommendation to annul the deal), Dr. Singh said: “Letters were also received from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce…At no stage was Department of Space asked to comment on the points made in these letter. They had no impact on the processing of the case.”

The Prime Minister also clarified that the German Minister of Foreign Affairs did not raise the matter when he recently met him, as reported in the media. Notably, the German firm — Deutsche Telekom — bought 17 per cent stake in the Devas Multimedia for about $75 million in 2008.

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