ISRO S-Band Scandal Grows

ISRO is in deep trouble over an insider deal it made involving to allocate valuable S-band spectrum to capabilities with a well-connected media company. The furor over the controversy has been growing daily as critics and government officials spar over details and responsibility.

The 2005 deal between Devas Multimedia and ISRO’s commercial arm, Antrix, involves the space agency building two S-band satellites, GSAT 6 and GSAT 6A, and the company leasing 90 percent of capacity getting use of them to deliver Internet services. ISRO did not actually allocate S-band spectrum to the company, but provided capacity on the satellites to use the spectrum. The scarce S-band spectrum was provided to deal was made with Devas with no competitive bidding. Devas includes two former high-ranking ISRO officials.

Critics have attacked the no-bid deal as having cost the government millions of dollars while benefiting a well-connected company. They view it as yet another example of the deep corruption afflicting the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Officials from ISRO and Singh’s government have been scrambling to explain the agreement and their actions concerning it since the scandal broke wide open. Officials have various issued statements and clarifications, few of which seem to address directly the corruption charges hanging over the deal. There are conflicting claims about who did what, and who knew what and when.

Citing recent terrorist attacks, officials have said the government needs the S-band spectrum for emergency purposes. This consideration, they claim, is driving their ongoing effort to cancel the agreement. A decision is expected soon:

Sources said a recommendation to annul the deal will be accepted by the Union Cabinet next week. Sources said a cornered prime minister has asked officials to put the issue on the agenda of the Cabinet as early as next week to deflect rising criticism on a matter concerning a department directly under his control and having huge financial implications.

ISRO officials have said that the process of terminating the contract is complicated and time consuming. It could be quite costly as well:

The contract has many penalty clauses including $20 million as “upfront capacity reservation fee,” $9 million on annual lease fee (which Devas would have to pay to Isro had it hired the transponders on-board the satellite) and delayed delivery penalty of $5 million. Devas was to use the GSAT transponders for 12 years.

But how much Isro would actually have to be pay would depend on the legal stand Devas Multimedia takes after analysing the controversy and the actual progress made in the GSAT 6 project, sources said.

The penalty may include the possible revenue loss, which Devas anticipated from the satellite-based services it planned to launch using the high-power spot-beam in the S-band such as satellite-based internet access. The taxes and service charges Devas has paid so far may be added too.

There seems to be great surprise that such a scandal is taking place at the widely respected ISRO, which is a symbol of India’s high-tech prowess and global rise. The space agency’s achievements in space are a source of great national pride.

I’m not sure why they are surprised. The space agency is not particularly open or candid about its taxpayer-funded work. During the Chandrayaan-1 mission, ISRO went to great lengths to downplay problems with the lunar probe. For example, the agency doubled the spacecraft’s orbit claiming that all work at the lower altitude had been completed. This was false; the real reason was a major system failure that made the spacecraft difficult to control at its original altitude. This news didn’t become public until two months later.

One hopes that the outcome of this scandal is that ISRO operates more responsibly in the future, and that it is more accountable to the people for whom it work.

  • Sub: (1) seeking immediate arrest of Mr.G.Madhavan Nair – the centre of the S-band scam of whooping 2 lakhs cores rupees.

    (2) Award BHARATHA RATNA to CAG for unmasking it.

    People of India, especially intellectuals, having doubt on Prof.Rodam Narasimha’s unbiased views on s-band scam. For an instant, after S-band MoU with Devas, Mr.G.Madhavan Nair, while he was the ISRO Chairman made a comment that Prof.Roddam Narasimha is his GOOD friend at a public function arranged by AERO INDIA at Bangalore while Mr.A.K.Antony, Central Minister was sharing the dais. How a GOOD friend can write an adverse inference against his crony? More clearly Prof.Rodam Narasimha was the session chair of the inaugural session of AERO INDIA while Mr.Nair was presenting ISRO activities to aero community. Surprisingly, after the end of the session, unconventionally, there was no question answer session. Prof.Rodam prohibited the audience to throw any question to Mr.Nair intending for safeguarding his illegal approach on ISRO/DoS activities. This can be verified through video clippings available with many reporters. It was well known within ISRO, now known outside ISRO, that Mr.Nair’s morale side was very weak. Various ISRO guest hose log book will corroborate it. Reserve further comments. Prof.Rodam’s morale was also questioned by NAL staff while he was the Director. Reserve further comments. Our innocent Prime Minister will find difficulty to explore the truth and enforce punishment towards the criminals. Though Dr.Manmohanji is a soft person public won’t belief that he will compromise with BIG corruption like ISRO-S band scam. WE MUST GIVE HIGHEST CIVILIAN AWARD TO THE CAG OF INDIA for unmasking the ISRO scam. UPA government must take immediate step for the arrest of former ISRO Chairman Mr.G.Madhavan Nair for polygraph testing and also for questioning him for identifying the depth and breadth of the scam. Note that for influencing Ms.Soniyaji once Mr.Nair made an open comment for launching Italian Satellite free of cost! Such a statement in India invited a lot of criticism against Mr.NAIR, then ISRO Chief; and as a result he further influenced the media for censoring any news against him. All these issues will bring out into light if UPA gov honestly conduct enquiry against Mr.Nair. Moreover, Mr.Nair’s meetings and phone calls with MP CM Mr.Chavan must also be investigated. Mr.Nair’s association with the ex-NASA Scientist, who was arrested on Israel spy scandal at USA, who was with ISRO’s MOON mission team, needs to be investigated too. In short all decisions taken by Mr.Nair while he was occupying the heads of 4 important institutions viz, DoS, ISRO, Space Commission, ANTRIX need to be reviewed on national interest. If UPA Gov is not taking any step against Mr.G.Madhavan Nair, former ISRO Chief people of our country will question the integrity of the UPA government, which aids clean victory to BJP. Next PM will be Ms.Sushama Swaraj. MS.SONIYAJI / DR.MANMOHAN SINGHJI PLEASE ACT IMMEDIATEY WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE FACES OF THE CORRUPTED EXECUTIVE. NOTE THAT CVC selection issue and Hon’ble Supreme Court direction was not this much serious. In fact Mr.P.J.Thomas was against ISRO/ANTRIX -DEVAS DEAL. GOOD DAY