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Devas deal: Probe team indicts ex-ISRO chief, three others

Sunday February 05, 2012 06:30:08 PM, IANS

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Chennai: A five-member team that probed the controversial Antrix-Devas deal has indicted former ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair and three other scientists for the controversial contract that resulted in an estimated loss of Rs.2 lakh crore, while another panel has disputed the CAG's estimation of the loss amount.

The five-member team, chaired by former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha, concluded that there have been serious lapses of judgement on the part of various officials, and in some cases the actions verged on the point of breach of public trust in the deal between the Indian space agency's commercial arm Antrix and Devas Multimedia.

However, a two-member High Powered Review Committee has contested the loss projection by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and has also has ruled out cheap selling of spectrum to Devas. The panel comprised B.K. Chaturvedi and Roddam Naraimha.

The other three Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists indicted by the Sinha panel are: A. Bhaskaranarayana, former scientific secretary at ISRO, K.R. Sridharamurthi, former executive director of Antrix, and K.N. Shankara, former director of the ISRO satellite centre.

As per the deal, Antrix was to provide 70 MHz S-Band spectrum to Devas, which is into multimedia services. Antrix would provide the spectrum by leasing out transponders of two satellites to be built mainly for Devas.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimated the loss to the exchequer was to the tune of Rs.2 lakh crore because of the deal. The centre later scrapped the controversial deal.

ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan had announced that the reports of two committees that looked into the controversial deal would be made public.

Late Saturday, ISRO uploaded on its website the conclusions and recommendations of both the panels.

Holding Nair, Bhaskaranarayana, Sridharamurthi and Shankara as mainly responsible for leading the Department of Space (DOS) and Antrix for the contract, the Sinha committee has recommended to the government to take action against them under pension rules or any other provisions of law.

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

It also recommended investigation by an appropriate agency to look into the changing pattern of ownership of Devas, the illegal financial benefit derived by individuals and officials, and the extent to which the increased valuation of Devas shares were encashed by individuals.

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

Earmarking two satellites for the Antrix-Devas deal without consulting INSAT Coordination Committee is a clear violation of the government policy, the panel said.

While the policy is to allow use of satellites by non-government users on non-exclusive basis, the Antrix deal with Devas provides for exclusive use of two custom-built satellites leaving no scope for alternate use.

The Sinha Committee said the approval process for the deal was riddled with incomplete and inaccurate information given to the Union cabinet and the Space Commission.

The date of agreement signed with Devas -- Jan 28, 2005 -- was not disclosed to the Space Commission or in the cabinet note in which sanction for building GSAT-6, one of the two satellites, was sought.

The committee said the existence of an agreement with Devas was not disclosed to the cabinet when sanction was sought to build the second satellite GSAT-6A.

On the argument that there was no need to involve the Space Commission in the Devas deal as the decision was taken by Antrix, the Sinha Committee said the commitment was to spend Rs.766 crore for launching and operating the satellites.

The committee also concluded that the terms of the contract was heavily loaded in favour of Devas.

According to the committee, any international agreement signed by a government department with arbitration clause has to be cleared by the legal cell of the department concerned and by the ministry of finance.

This was not done in the Antrix-Devas deal.

The two-member High Powered Review Committee, while it said that the deal may not have resulted in huge revenue loss for the government, did hold the chairman of the Antrix Board, secretary of the Department of Space, member finance of the Space Commission and director of SATCOM at ISRO primarily responsible for financial and strategic gaps in the deal.

The committee said the chairman of ISRO and the Antrix Board who finalised several areas of the Antrix-Devas deal must also share the responsibility for some of the gaps.

The central government Jan 13 had banned Nair, Bhaskaranarayana, Shankara and Sridharamurthi, from holding any government jobs or any membership in a government committee.

Nair, who had been awarded Padma Bhushan in 1998 and Padma Vibhushan in 2009, said ISRO's current chairman Radhakrishnan was behind the government's ban order.

He said he was not given an opportunity to present his case before the ban order was issued by the government.






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