Ex-ISRO Chairman Nair, 3 Others Banned From Gov’t Work Over Antrix-Devas Deal

G. Madhavan Nair

ISRO’s former chairman and three other officials have been disciplined for their roles in the controversial Antrix-Devas Multimedia S-band deal:

In an unprecedented disciplinary action, four of the biggest names in the space community, including former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair, have been barred from occupying any government position — current or in future — for their role in the Antrix-Devas deal, in which a private company was accused to have been wrongfully allotted S-band frequencies for radio waves.

A Bhaskarnarayana, former scientific secretary in ISRO; K R Sridharmurthi, former managing director of Antrix which is the marketing arm of ISRO; and K N Shankara, former director in ISRO’s satellite centre, are the others who have been penalised, according to an order issued by the Department of Space on January 13, 2012….

The order, sent to all Secretaries of the Government of India and Chief Secretaries of state governments and Union Territories, says that these “former Officers of the Department of Space shall be excluded from re-employment, committee roles or any other important role under the government”.

Further, the order states that “these former officers shall be divested of any current assignment/consultancy with the government with immediate effect”. Ministries and departments concerned have been asked to communicate necessary action taken towards the same to the Department of Space.

Under the controversial deal signed in January 2005, Devas agreed to lease 90 percent of two S-band satellites that would be built by ISRO. S-band frequencies are used to deliver a variety of satellite services to mobile devices.

The deal was approved by the Cabinet, and it attracted little attention until November 2009, when questions were raised within ISRO. A review was begun within weeks of Nair leaving his post as the space agency’s chairman on Oct. 31, 2009.

The government subsequently voided the deal, saying the bandwidth was needed for national needs. Officials claimed that ISRO failed to tell Cabinet officials that the two satellites would be 90 percent leased by Devas when it obtained approval to build the spacecraft.

Critics have attacked the agreement as an insider deal awarded without competitive bidding that improperly benefited a commercial company at the expense of the public good. They view it as an example of the rampant favoritism and corruption that infests the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Devas officials have defended the agreement, saying it was done properly. The company is appealing the decision to void it.

The disciplinary actions against Nair and the other former officials followed two reviews conducted last year by outside committees appointed by the prime minister. Nair and other officials targeted in the probe feel they have been mistreated by investigators:

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s efforts to get to the bottom of the controversial contract between Antrix Corporation and Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd on allocation of S-band spectrum has run into fresh controversy after those reportedly held guilty of wrong-doing by a committee headed by former CVC Pratyush Sinha picked holes in the report and complained the probe was conducted in haste.

The most prominent among them, Gopalan Madhavan Nair, former chairman of Isro, regarded as India’s ‘Moon-man’ said in his letter to the Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth that no-one was given an opportunity to face the committee and present their case…

Technocrats and bureaucrats reportedly named by the Pratyush Sinha Committee, which probed the controversial Antrix-Devas contract on allotment of S-band spectrum, are shocked that basic principles of natural justice were not followed by the high-level team (HLT) during its inquiry.

Speaking to Deccan Chronicle, they said that the committee reportedly drew up its conclusions on the basis of written replies from them and notes made on files connected with the contract.

Though they made frantic efforts to meet the committee and present facts and figures in person, none got an opportunity to do so.

It is not clear what legal recourse the four former officials have to appeal the decision.