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PM sets up team to probe ISRO deal

Last updated on: February 10, 2011 19:04 IST
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday appointed a high power committee to review various aspects and fix responsibility for lapses in the controversial deal between Antrix Corporation, ISRO's commercial arm, and a private company for lease of scarce S-band spectrum.

The two-member Committee, headed by former Cabinet Secretary and Member, Planning Commission B K Chaturvedi, has been asked to review the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the agreement between Antrix and Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd.

It will also review the adequacy of procedures and approval processes followed by Antrix, ISRO and Department of Space, and suggest improvements and changes and submit a report within a month.

Aerospace expert Roddam Narsimha, Member, Space Commission, is the other member of the committee.

The Terms of Reference also tasks the committee to fix responsibility for lapses with regard to the agreement, which media reports claimed could have caused loss of Rs. 2 lakh crore (Rs. 2 trillion) to the national exchequer.

A number of Union Ministers sought to know details about the deal at the meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday. The Prime Minister asked K Radhakrishnan, Secretary, Department of Space, to brief the ministers on the deal.

After a brief discussion on the issue, the Prime Minister told the Cabinet that he has already set up a committee and sought a report on the matter within a month.

At this stage, it was decided to wait till the committee submits its report.

When pointed out that Chaturvedi was Cabinet Secretary when the deal was signed, I&B Minister Ambika Soni said she was not in a position to comment but added that "he would know how and why it happened".

Chaturvedi also dismissed as "bunkum" suggestions that he would not be able to give a fair report as he was cabinet secretary when the deal was signed.

ISRO issued an official note on the entire matter to clarify that the government had taken no decision to allocate space segment using S-band spectrum to Antrix or Devas.

The note also included opinion of the Law Ministry that the deal with Devas be annulled. The Law Ministry opinion also made it clear that ISRO was not duty bound to provide orbit slot to Antrix for commercial activities, especially when there were strategic requirements to be met.

However, it said as per the agreement, Antrix will have to reimburse Devas all the upfront capacity reservation fees and corresponding service taxes it had received till the date of annulment.

Devas has so far made a payment of Rs. 58.37 crore (Rs. 583.7 million) as upfront reservation fee for two satellites - GSAT 6 and GSAT 6A.

As per the note, the Space Commission has recommended a review and restructuring of the working of Antrix in the wake of the controversial deal.

Media reports had stated that the Department of Space had allocated 70 MHz of S-Band spectrum to Devas Multimedia for Rs. 1,000 crore (Rs. 10 billion).

The Prime Minister's Office had denied reports, saying no decision has been taken and hence charges of revenue loss were without any basis.

ISRO Chief K Radhakrishnan, at a press conference on Tuesday, had admitted that details about contract that gave Devas rights to 90 per cent usage of transponders on two satellites were not shared with the Space Commission or the Union Cabinet.

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