Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ex-ISRO chief seeks fresh probe into Devas deal

Blaming the space department for misleading the government and the Space Commission on the spectrum deal, former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman G. Madhavan Nair Sunday sought a fresh enquiry into the $300-million Antrix-Devas contract which was annulled in February 2011.

“The department of space has misled the government and the Space Commission with wrong inputs on the Devas agreement. Hence I request the prime minister to constitute an appropriate committee to review all aspects of the Antrix-Devas contract, including reasons for annulling it, to bring out the real issues,” Nair said in a letter to Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanswamy.

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Terming the government’s Jan 13 action of blacklisting him and three other senior scientists for their alleged lapses in finalising the deal as ill-conceived and against established norms, Nair said the current scenario unfolded due to the gross misjudgment of the space department, which committed a series of mistakes to suppress the truth and find scapegoats.

Protesting the blacklisting of the quartet, Space Commission’s senior most member Roddam Narasimha, 78, last week requested the prime minister to relinquish him from the high-profile post that he held over the past two decades.

“The B.N. Suresh committee, set up the space agency to review the Devas agreement, had not recommended the cancellation of the contract but advised the space panel to re-negotiate it in light of societal and security needs,” Nair said in the letter.

ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan constituted the Suresh committee in December 2009 to review the Devas agreement, which was signed January 28, 2005.

Suresh, a former director of the space agency’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, was also a member of the Space Commission, the highest policy-making body directing the country’s space programmes and policies under the prime minister, who is also in-charge of the space department.

Refuting the charges levelled against him and the three other scientists, Nair said the Suresh committee had concluded that the procedures followed in the Devas agreement were same as in any other transponder lease.

“As per the Satcom policy, the Insat coordination committee (ICC) had authorised the space department to lease out transponder capacity to private users,” Nair clarified.

On the charge that the space agency during his tenure had not properly informed the cabinet about the terms of the agreement, Nair said the notes before the space panel and the cabinet to seek approval for the twin satellites (GSAT6 & GSAT-6A) that were to carry transponders meant for Devas were on similar lines as those in case of any other proposal for funding.

“It was never the practice to mention the name of specific private users in such proposals,” Nair pointed out in the letter.
Endorsing the recommendations of the two-member high powered review committee (HPRC) headed by former cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi and Narasimha as fair and objective, Nair slammed the high level probe team headed by former chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha for condemning him and his three colleagues without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

Questioning the six-month delay by the Space Commission in conveying its recommendation to cancel the agreement to the cabinet for final decision, Nair said even other recommendations made by the space panel during his tenure had not been implemented yet.

“I can go on citing many such examples in which the department (of space) has failed to take timely action and conduct internal reviews in a transparent manner involving the concerned specialists and discuss it with peers who were knowledgeable in this deal,” he added.

The Devas deal was signed between Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the state-run ISRO, and Devas Multimedia Services Ltd, a Bangalore-based private firm promoted by former space scientists, to offer digital services using the scarce S-band spectrum (radio waves) through the transponders of ISRO’s proposed GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A advanced satellites.

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