Ministers seek details at Cabinet meeting

Even as the political furore over the ‘Space Scam' escalated, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday constituted a high-power committee to review the controversial deal between Antrix Corporation and Devas Multimedia. If implemented, the deal will give the Bangalore-based company virtually 20 years of free access to scarce S-band spectrum worth an estimated Rs.2 lakh crore.

The two-man committee — comprising Planning Commission member and former Cabinet Secretary B.K. Chaturvedi, and Space Commission member Professor Roddam Narasimha — will review “the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the Agreement between Antrix (the commercial arm of ISRO) and (Bangalore-based private firm) Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd taking into account the report for internal review conducted by DoS.”

However, the formation of the committee triggered a fresh controversy, with the Opposition questioning the propriety of Mr. Chaturvedi's inclusion since he was the Cabinet Secretary when the deal was cleared.

The committee has been asked to submit its recommendations to the Prime Minister as the Minister in charge of DoS within one month. It will review “the adequacy of procedures and approval process” followed by Antrix, ISRO and DoS and suggest improvements and changes, taking into account the review (of the deal) that was mandated by the Space Commission at its meeting held on July 2, 2010. The Committee has also been asked to “fix responsibility for lapses,” if any.

The Centre's decision to form a committee to look into the entire deal, which is currently under the scanner of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), comes before the Space Commission's crucial meeting scheduled for Saturday (February 12).

In its last meeting held on July 2, 2010, the Commission had said the Antrix-Devas deal should be scrapped. Saturday's meeting would take a call on the action taken report (ATR) of the last meeting. The ATR is likely to be submitted to the Cabinet next week for a final decision. In July 2010, the Law Ministry had advised the government to scrap the deal.

The Antrix-Devas deal figured in Thursday's Cabinet meeting, where some Union Ministers sought to know details about the entire issue. DoS Secretary Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, who is also ISRO's Chairman and the head of Antrix Corporation, circulated a two-page note on the deal and briefed the Ministers.

According to sources in the Cabinet, Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi sought some clarifications from V. Narayanaswamy, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office.

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