BANGALORE: Stung by a government order debarring him and three other reputed space scientists from occupying official posts, former Indian space agency chairman G. Madhavan Nair has demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh immediately enquire into the case.
"As I am not aware who took the decision in the PMO (Prime Minister's Office), I want the prime minister to investigate the order and ascertain the basis of the recommendation for action as I was not given a chance to know what my crime is," an upset Nair told IANS in an interview here.
The other three scientists who have been barred from holding any government job are former scientific secretary A. Bhaskarnarayana, Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) former satellite centre director K.N. Shankara and former Antrix Corporation executive director K.R. Sridharamurthi.
The Rs.1,000-crore ($200 million) Antrix is the commercial arm of the state-run ISRO, which is headquartered in this tech hub with centres across the country.
The quartet had been punished for their alleged role in the nixed $300 million (Rs.60 crore) spectrum deal between Antrix and the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia Ltd in violation of rules, including competitive bidding through a global tender.
"The fact that the blacklisting order was not sent to me even 12 days after it was issued (Jan 13) but leaked to the media makes me suspect a sinister design behind the entire episode to cover up something or shield someone," Nair asserted.
Claiming that the review committee headed by former cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi and Space Commission member Roddam Narasimha found nothing amiss with the terms under which the contract was signed to allot 70MHz of the scarce S-band spectrum (radio waves) to Devas for digital multimedia services, Nair said even the one-man committee headed by B.N. Suresh gave him a clean chit.
Present ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan set up the Suresh panel in December 2009 to probe the deal.
"The Chaturvedi committee was at least fair to send a questionnaire and seek my explanation for some policy decisions on the deal, as I was also secretary of the space department during my tenure as ISRO chairman. After I sent a rejoinder and clarified the issues to their satisfaction, I thought the matter rested there," Nair recalled.
The prime minister had set up a panel May 31, 2011 under the chairmanship of former Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) Pratyush Sinha to study the recommendations of the Chaturvedi panel report. Nair said the panel had neither summoned him nor asked him to appear before it.
"It is a mystery to me on how the Sinha panel made a case against me to warrant such an action by the PMO. I wish it had given me a chance to clear the air. Instead, I have been convicted and sentenced without giving me a hearing... I strongly suspect the hand of Radhakrishnan who scuttled the deal but held us responsible for his misdeeds," Nair charged.
The prime minister had set up the Chaturvedi panel on Feb 10, 2011 to go into the Antrix-Devas agreement that was scrapped Feb 17, 2011.
The panel submitted its report to the prime minister March 12, 2011.
As per the deal, Devas was to get 90 percent of the transponders for 12 years from GSAT-6 and GSAT-6A satellites ISRO proposes to launch in the near future for communication and broadcasting services.
Reiterating that the contract was signed as per the policy prevailing then (2004), Nair said due to lack of clarity on ISRO's role in the operational aspects of the deal, facts and issues have been distorted.
"ISRO's role is to launch the twin satellites (GSAT-6 & GSAT-6A) and lease the transponders to the bidder at a cost, while it is the DoT (Department of Telecom) which charges for providing other links. When Devas applied for the satellite, there were no other bidders as the technology was new and there was no 3G or 4G for which the S-band spectrum is used to provide high speed links for various multimedia services," he said.
Contesting the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) valuation, Nair said when even the satellites were not launched or transponders leased and services began, how can a loss be estimated and the entire deal dubbed a scam?
The CAG in February 2011 estimated the loss to the exchequer to the tune of Rs.2 lakh crore (Rs.2 trillion) from the deal.
"The satellite spectrum cannot be equated with the land-based radio waves as the former's usage is restricted. The CAG has extrapolated the land based spectrum usage to space based one," Nair added.
(Fakir Balaji can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)