New Delhi: The commercial agreement between Antrix Corp. Ltd, the commercial wing of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), and Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd, is in the process of being terminated, Isro chief K. Radhakrishnan said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
This was because a few years after the deal was signed, national “strategic and social” priorities gained predominance.
The deal involved Isro leasing transponders using the S-band (2.5-5GHz) on two satellites—GSAT6 and GSAT6A—to be launched by Isro by 2013. Devas was to use these transponders for multimedia broadcasting purposes using a technology, which Radhakrishnan described as “extremely innovative”.
Devas is a private company headed by M.G. Chandrashekhar, a former scientific secretary at Isro. Deutsche Telekom AG is a minority shareholder in Devas.
While several government bodies cleared the proposal by 2006, Radhakrishnan added there was “no explicit mention” that the satellites were to predominantly carry equipment designed to serve Devas’ business objectives.
“This and a change in priorities of strategic importance made the Space Commission relook at the agreement, and in July 2010 several decisions were made, one of which was to terminate the agreement,” Radhakrishnan said.
On Monday, The Hindu Business Line newspaper reported that the Comptroller and Auditor General, the government’s auditor, was looking into the 2005 agreement between Isro and Devas.
The agreement, the newspaper reported, gave Devas 70MHz of spectrum in the so-called S-band for roughly Rs 2,000 crore. In comparison, the Union government got nearly Rs 67,000 crore by auctioning 15MHz of airwaves for third-generation (3G) mobile communication services.
Former Isro chairman and Space Commission member Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan added that leasing out spectrum for mobile telephony was different from the way Isro leased out transponders and, hence, spectrum. “It cannot be compared,” he said. “So media reports that suggest losses are completely wrong.”
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister’s Office said the report was baseless.
“This office has seen reports alleging loss of government revenue in a contract,” it said in an emailed statement. “It is further clarified that no decision has been taken by the government to allocate space segment using S-band spectrum to Antrix or Devas. Hence, the question of revenue loss does not arise and any such reports are without basis in fact.”
Isro comes under the department of space (DoS), which is under the charge of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has targeted the Prime Minister over the issue, said the clarification was meaningless.
“The concerned ministry is directly under his charge and he cannot escape responsibility or accountability,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, a BJP spokesperson.
The controversy has broken out as the government battles allegations of corruption in various instances, including spectrum allocation.
Out of the total 1,161MHz of available spectrum in the identified bands, 40-55% is with government agencies and only 85MHz of radio waves is likely to be available by 2014.