ISRO mum on Nair`s outburst, scientists dismayed

The state-run ISRO Wednesday declined to comment on the outburst of its former chairman G Madhavan Nair.

Bangalore/Chennai: The state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Wednesday declined to comment on the outburst of its former chairman G Madhavan Nair on the space agency and its current chairman K Radhakrishnan, saying it would do so at the "appropriate time".

"We have no comments for the present. We will respond at the appropriate time. It is those against whom the (January 13) order was issued who are reacting now," a senior ISRO official said.

The space department barred Nair and three others top officials from holding any government positions over the soured multi-billion rupee S-band spectrum deal between ISRO`s commercial arm Antrix Corporation and Devas Multimedia Ltd which was annulled in 2011.

The other three space agency officials are former scientific secretary A. Bhaskarnarayana, former satellite centre director KN Shankara and former Antrix executive director KR Sridharamurthi.

Even as space scientists expressed shock and dismay over Nair`s outburst against the organisation he served and headed 2003-2009, senior officials at the highly protected space agency headquarters in this tech hub went into huddle and were learnt to be animatedly discussing Nair`s outburst.

"Mr Nair`s remarks are not only critical, but also unfortunate. We are in not in position to react as we are not privy to the nitty-gritty of the Devas deal, as it was handled by Antrix. We have to wait and watch what impact Nair`s sweeping observations will have on the organisation," a senior space scientist said on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

Another scientist disagreed.

"It is unfortunate. The blacklisting not befitting the stature of the people concerned," the scientist said.

On blacklisting him and three of his former colleagues from holding any official job due to their alleged mishandling of the Devas contract during their tenure, a furious Nair told reporters in Chennai earlier in the day that the "space agency (ISRO) had gone to dogs."

"I have sent a representation to the prime minister bringing to his notice that the decision to bar me was taken without any enquiry or giving me an opportunity to be heard," Nair said, adding Radhakrishnan "has not tarnished my image but that of the entire ISRO community".

"I still have the respect for the Indian president and the prime minister. I am sure they will look into the issue," Nair said, noting that he had not spoken on Antrix-Devas deal for the past two years "mainly to protect the image of ISRO as the organisation is more important".

Terming the gag order totally unjust, Nair said he was not interested in serving any organisation or official committees under the current government.

"Even in an autocratic/military regime an opportunity would have been given to the person who has been blacklisted. No such opportunity was given to me. I am shocked at the order which has not been served on me," Nair said.

"I am yet to see the order. Once it is sent to me, I will decide on the appropriate action," Nair said.

Nair, 69, was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1998 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2009 by the Indian government. Commenting on this, he said the awards "were not given to me in my personal capacity but as a part of ISRO team and I do not have any plans to surrender them".

Nair also accused Radhakrishnan of inefficiency and pursuing a personal agenda.

Alleging that Radhakrishnan had been unable to live up to expectations of the space agency, Nair said his successor was resorting to action like blacklisting others to divert attention.

"He (Radhakrishnan) may not be knowing the difference between transponders and satellites. During the past two years, ISRO has not announced any major project and the organisation will soon come to a grinding halt," Nair said.

"Ever since Radhakrishnan has taken over as chairman (in October 2000), ISRO`s total budgetary expenditure has come down to around 50 percent of the allocation. On the other hand, during my period, ISRO nearly made full utilisation of the budgetary allocation," Nair asserted.

"ISRO has now gone to the dogs," he declared.

Meanwhile, Sridharmurthi, who was in-charge of Antrix when the Devas deal was signed, said he would first seek clarifications from the space agency than commenting off-hand.

"As I have moved away from ISRO after superannuation and have been associated with other state-run projects, I have not been keeping track of the developments. I am yet to study the order. I need to find out what are the issues and reasons for the order," Sridharmurthi said.

Similarly, Bhaskarnarayana said it was too early to comment as he had learnt about the developments only today (Wednesday).

"Whatever job was assigned to me, I have done no wrong. It is too early to react without facts in hand. Yes, it hurts to know that I have been punished for no fault of mine," Bhaskaranarayana said.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has estimated the loss to the exchequer from the Devas deal at Rs.2 lakh crore from the deal, under which Antrix was to provide 70 MHz S-Band spectrum to Devas.

In Nair`s view, the CAG had gone wrong in its estimation of the probable loss of revenue in the Antrix-Devas deal.

"Satellite spectrum cannot be equated with land-based spectrum as its usage is restricted. The CAG has extrapolated the land-based spectrum usage to space-based one," Nair maintained.

Nair also pointed out that the present ISRO chairman was a member of the Antrix board when the deal with Devas was signed.

"Radhakrishnan did not say anything at that point of time, but now says the deal was wrong. He has misled the government on the Antrix-Devas deal and killed it," Nair asserted.

The former ISRO chief also said that the Suresh committee, appointed by Radhakrishnan, had given the deal a clean chit.