India: Committee Completes Probe of Antrix-Devas Deal, Investigations Launched

A  high-level committee has completed a probe into the controversial satellite deal between ISRO’s Antrix commercial arm and Davas Multimedia, according to Indian press reports. Investigations are being carried out based on the team’s review.

The five-member body, appointed in May by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was asked to investigate how the deal was made and to identify any acts of “omission and commission” by the government officials who approved it.

Under the 2005 agreement, Antrix would build two S-band satellites with Devas leasing 90 percent of the transponders to provide digital multimedia services. The company would pay Antrix about $300 million over 12 years.

Supporters have defended the agreement as providing funding for Antrix to develop the advanced S-band technology. Critics say this was a sweetheart deal done by former ISRO insiders with no competitive bidding. They view as an example of rampant corruption permeating the Singh government.

ISRO ordered a review of the deal in December 2009. The agreement was annulled in July 2010 over the objections of Devas officials, who said the deal with legal and proper. One of the stated reasons for voiding the agreement is that the S-band spectrum is vital for national security and other government needs.

An interesting question is why knew what and when. The deal was approved by the Union Cabinet, which has since claimed that Antrix never told it or the prime minister that Devas would be leasing 90 percent of the transponders. Others have disputed this claim, saying that the officials knew the terms.