Watch this space

The saga of the scandalous deal that would have given a private company, Devas Multimedia Private Limited, control over a large chunk of valuable S-band spectrum has not ended. If the agreement signed with Antrix Corporation in 2005, the marketing wing of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), had been allowed to stand, Devas could have made a killing. However, doubts over the deal began to surface and, in December 2009, after K. Radhakrishnan took over the Department of Space, the parent body for both ISRO and Antrix, an internal committee was set up to review the deal under B.N. Suresh. It was Business Line, the business daily of the The Hindu group, that first brought to public notice what was going on behind closed doors. Subsequently, in February 2011, The Hindu and Business Line, published the text of the Antrix-Devas agreement and revealed the enquiries being pursued by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Later that month, the deal was finally annulled by the Central government. In the wake of The Hindu group's exposé, the government constituted a high-powered committee made up of B.K. Chaturvedi and Roddam Narasimha to “review the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects” of the agreement. This committee submitted its report to the Prime Minister in March 2011. In May, a five-member high-level team headed by a former Central Vigilance Commissioner, Pratyush Sinha, was set up to examine the deal and identify acts of omission and commission by government officials. It was, the government said, after carefully considering the reports of the Chaturvedi-Narasimha committee and the high-level team that action was ordered. Four former officials, including G. Madhavan Nair who was ISRO chairman when the deal was signed, were barred from holding any government position.

But this action begs many questions. Is it the government's considered view that these four officials were solely responsible for the deal? What about the Space Commission, which has a key oversight role over the space programme? Were the members of the Commission as blissfully unaware of the deal as is made out? Mr. Nair has said the Space Commission was told about the agreement with Devas. He has also indicated that there were government officials, including some in the PMO, who were well aware of the Devas contract. That apart, how was it that members of the Space Commission who were also on the Antrix board of directors knew nothing of what was going on? The Antrix-Devas deal has raised fundamental questions about decision-making and oversight processes in the space programme. The government must come clean on what actually transpired by placing in the public domain the reports prepared by Dr. Suresh, the Chaturvedi-Narasimha committee and the high-level team.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 11:24:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Watch-this-space/article13387415.ece

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