New Delhi: As part of a larger exercise to improve transparency, Antrix Corp. Ltd, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, or Isro, will post the country’s satellite policy on its website.
The satellite policy is a government-approved document that elaborates the principles under which transponders on various Indian satellites are leased to private and state broadcasters.
“The satellite policy will be put up on the (Antrix) website and will be part of the several initiatives to spell out greater transparency in the way Antrix and Isro function,” said K. Radhakrishnan, chairman, Isro, on the sidelines of the National Technology Summit.
Experts say spelling out the policy will offer greater clarity on future leases of satellite transponders by Isro.
“There was a time when spectrum was just given away,” said P.S. Goel, a former director at Isro. “Clearly, it is a far more valuable asset and there has to be more scrutiny and transparency in the manner it is auctioned or given now that private players are likely to play an ever increasing role.”
In February, controversy erupted when Antrix backed out on a Rs 1,000-crore deal with Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd to lease transponders using the S-band (2.5-5GHz) on two satellites—GSAT6 and GSAT6A— to be launched by 2013.
Devas was to use these transponders for multimedia broadcasting. It argued that the deal was in accordance with the existing satellite policy but Isro said it couldn’t go through because of “strategic national priorities”.
Coming on the back of the second-generation (2G) spectrum scam, opposition parties alleged that the government had approved the deal and unilaterally favoured Devas.
Subsequently, a two-member committee—comprising Roddam Narasimha, a senior aerospace scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, and B.K. Chaturvedi, member, Planning Commission—submitted a report to the prime minister to enquire if due process had been followed in executing the deal between Antrix and Devas.
“The report was submitted (in March) to the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office), post which the cabinet secretary was asked to take a look,” Chaturvedi said in an interview. “The report has been sent back to the PMO...the basic surmise of the report was that overall policy framework (in the way Antrix inked deals with private companies for leasing transponders) wasn’t followed.”
Devas chief executive Viswanathan Ramachandran didn’t respond to calls or text messages left on his mobile phone.
Radhakrishnan said internal discussions on operationally separating Antrix and Isro have been on since 2009 and “would have come about anyway”.
A new head has been chosen for Antrix and the appointment is awaiting the prime minister’s clearance, he said without giving details. Antrix is currently headed by him.
Antrix will also have a separate board of experts to clear its decisions, Radhakrishnan said.
For over four decades, Isro has earmarked satellite transponders to state and private broadcasters such as Doordarshan and Tata Sky Ltd and has never followed an auctioning process.
Officials of Isro and Devas have said in previous discussions that the satellite policy doesn’t require Isro to auction transponders.
Utpal Bhaskar contributed to this story.