'Devas deal cancelled for national security'



Chennai: The central government cancelled the Antrix Corporation-Devas Multimedia deal for reasons of national security and not for purported loss of revenue in sale of spectrum, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V Narayanasamy has said.

He also said the government was not discriminating between space scientists and Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officials and, based on their culpability, punitive action would be taken against the latter too.

"We did not cancel the deal due to media pressure or the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) estimation of loss. The government cancelled the deal on the issue of national security," Narayanasamy told a news against on phone.

A committee comprising BK Chaturvedi and Roddam Narasimha that went into the controversial deal has ruled out cheap selling of spectrum by Antrix to Bangalore-based Devas.

"Concerns of cheap selling of spectrum to Devas have no basis whatsoever. Space spectrum is not comparable to terrestrial spectrum. Devas was also required to obtain licences from Department of Telecommunications, Department of Information Broadcasting for providing services to customers and would have to pay, apart from transponder leasing charges, other charges which would be determined by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) based on consultation mechanism," the committee declared.

Portions of the report were made public Saturday night by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Some portions of the Chaturvedi-Narasimha panel have been withheld under Section 8 (1) (a) of Right to Information Act 2005.

As per the deal, Antrix was to provide 70 MHz S-Band spectrum to Devas, which is into multimedia services. Antrix would provide the spectrum by leasing out transponders of two satellites to be built mainly for Devas.

The CAG estimated the loss to the exchequer to the tune of Rs 2 lakh crore because of the deal. The centre later scrapped the controversial deal.

Indian space agency ISRO Saturday also made public only the conclusions and recommendations of a report by a five-member panel led by former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha.

On the basis of the Sinha panel's recommendations, the government Jan 13 debarred the four space scientists from holding any government post or being on an any official committees. The four are former ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair; A Bhaskaranarayana, former scientific secretary at ISRO; KR Sridharamurthi, former executive director of Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO; and KN Shankara, former director of the ISRO satellite centre.

The committee also recommended actions under pension rules against retired officials S.S. Meenakshisundaram and Veena Rao, and against G Balachandran and RG Nadadur under the relevant service rules.

A view has gained ground that a witch hunt is on against the four retired space scientists.

Asked about this, Narayanasamy said: "The government is not discriminating between retired space scientists and serving IAS officials. We will take action against the serving officers based on their culpability in the whole issue. Action will be taken in stages after studying in detail."

However, he declined to reveal the reasons for making public only selective portions of the two reports.

A top source said portions of the report that have been withheld consist of cabinet notes and others dealing with internal security which is not for the public.

ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan told reporters in Bangalore Monday: "Whatever I have to say is up in the report. I have nothing more to say. There is nothing personal in this."

Refuting Nair's charge that he was not given an opportunity to be heard by the Sinha panel, Narayanasamy said: "The committee report clearly states that Nair had met Sinha apart from submitting his views in writing. Other people had given their views in writing to the panel."

He also did not agree with the general view that ISRO's activities have slowed down over the past two years.

"It is a wrong impression. I myself have witnessed two successful rocket launches. The failure of two GSLV (geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle) launches is owing to problems in the rocket's cryogenic engine," Narayanasamy said.

IANS