The report of the two committees set up by the Government to review the Antrix-Devas agreement was made public late on Saturday (4 Februry 2012) night. The report is based on the allegation of impropriety in the Antrix-Devas deal by the former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Madhavan Nair

K.Bhaskaranarayana, former Scientific Secretary of ISRO, K.R.Sridharamurthi, former Managing Director of Antrix, and K.N.Shankara, former Director of the ISRO satellite centre were debarred from holding government posts.

The High Powered Review Committee (HPRC) appointed by the government consisted of B.K. Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission and Professor Roddam Narasimha, Member, Space Commission. This committee did not find any basis to suggest that spectrum was sold at cheap prices. It also noted that space spectrum was not comparable to terrestrial spectrum.

Antrix is the marketing wing of ISRO and is fully owned by the government. Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd is a private company. Antrix had signed a deal with Devas agreeing to give it two communication satellites. The agreement gave 90% of the satellite capacity and the use of about 60 MHz of S-Band spectrum in the 2500-2690 MHz band to Devas. The agreement was annulled last year.

A five-member High-Level Team (HLT) led by the former Central Vigilance Commissioner, Pratyusha Sinha, was asked by the government to examine the deal and fix responsibility for acts of omission or commission. The report found that the four officials had not informed the Union Cabinet about the Devas deal and pointed out that deal lacked transparency. Devas had a paid up share capital of $2,000 whereas ISRO was to invest about $ 163 million in two satellites and their launches. The report also stated that this spectrum allocation was “disproportionately large considering that reportedly in the U.S., Korea and Japan, 20-25 MHz in this band had been used for similar services.” It noted that the Chairman, Antrix Board/Secretary Department of Space, Director, SATCOM, ISRO, Member (Finance), Space Commission were “primarily responsible for the lapse.”

The committee recommended investigation into the shareholding pattern of Devas and that of two Mauritius-based companies owing shares in Devas.

The committee also recommended actions against retired officials S.S. Meenakshisundaram, Veena Rao, G. Balachandran and R.G. Nadadur.

Nair was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1998 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2009.

Nair said the government had not provided an opportunity to the four scientists to present their point of view. According to him, the two spacecraft would have ushered in an era of new technologies which would have benefitted the rural area. He added that the ISRO report on the Antrix-Devas deal was one-sided and does not bring out the facts.

He said ISRO’s current chairman Radhakrishnan was behind the government’s ban order.

Prof. Roddam Narasimha, one of the country’s top aerospace scientists, has written to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, expressing his distress over “unjustified” orders against the former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), G. Madhavan Nair, and three other technocrats. He noted that “punitive procedures” would make scientists think twice before taking calculated risks in research & development (R&D) laboratories.

Prof. C.N.R.Rao, Chairman, Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (SAC-PM), said that it was ironic that the Department of Space (DOS) had chosen to make public the reports of the B.K. Chaturvedi committee and Pratyush Sinha committee after “public hanging” and “humiliation” of these technocrats.