Devas’ S-band deal scrapped; too little, too late says opposition (Roundup)

February 17th, 2011 - 9:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) Even as the government Thursday scrapped the controversial S-band spectrum contract with Devas Multimedia to pre-empt opposition protests during parliament’s budget session beginning Monday, the opposition and Public Accounts Committee chairman Murli Manohar Joshi described the decision as “too little, too late”.

Joshi, a former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the PAC may “look into the issue, if it feels the need”.

Joshi said “legal proceedings should be initiated against those who finalised the deal” between the Indian space agency’s commerical arm Antrix and Devas, which caused a notional loss of Rs.2 lakh crore to the national exchequer, as per the preliminary findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) quoted by the media.

Reacting to the cancellation of the contract, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said that the deal was a “mistake” made by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), “which was corrected by the government” Thursday.

Antony added that the availability of S-Band is “limited, and it has to be given mainly for strategic aspects.

“The agreement for the lease of space segment capacity on Antrix S-Band spacecraft (satellite) by Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. shall be annulled forthwith,” Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily told reporters earlier, announcing the decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Moily said the decision was taken after noting “the fact that government policies with regard to allocation of spectrum have undergone a change in the last few years”.

He said there had been “an increased demand for allocation of S-band spectrum (high-value and scare radio waves) for national needs, including for the needs of the defence and paramilitary forces, railways and other public utility services as well as for societal needs”.

“Having regard to the needs of the country’s strategic requirements, the government will not be able to provide orbit slot in S-band to Antrix for commercial activities, including for those which are the subject matter of existing contractual obligations for S-band,” Moily said.

Antrix had finalised the contract with Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia, in 2005 without any competitive bidding.

Manmohan Singh told reporters Wednesday that the deal was not operational and if there was any delay in scrapping it, this was “only procedural”.

Devas Multimedia had threatened to take legal action as it Wednesday termed as “disturbing and inappropriate” the government’s “unilateral” decision to terminate the agreement.

Declaring that the government was ready for a legal battle, Moily said: “The legal impact was also discussed in the CCS”.

However, Opposition parties and PAC chief Joshi described the cabinet decision as “too little, too late” and one which raises more questions.

Joshi indicated the parliamentary panel could probe the matter.

“If we (PAC) feel the need, we will look into it,” Joshi told reporters here, adding the matter has not come before the PAC so far and the panel normally discusses a matter after the submission of a report.

“This is what is called too little, too late. Just cancelling the deal is not enough, the matter also be seriously investigated,” Joshi said.

Joshi also said legal proceedings should be initiated against those who finalised such a contract.

Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member S. Ramachandran Pillai said that the cancellation of the contract had raised more questions on the controversial deal. The government should explain why it had delayed the decision to scrap the deal, he added.

Forward Bloc national secretary G. Devarajan said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should explain his role as the space department comes under him.

“If the media had not brought forth the issue, it would have been another contract and deal which would have passed through,” Devarajan told IANS.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS that Manmohan Singh, as the minister in charge, “was responsible for the ommissions and commissions in the S-band contract”.

“There was no transparency in the entire deal so far. The cancellation of the contract should not be the end of the matter. A thorough inquiry should follow and the role of the prime minister and other ministers should be probed,” she said.

Defence Minister Antony said his ministry was not consulted during the negotiartions for the contract to Devas.

” They (ISRO) committed a mistake, the government has corrected it,” Antony told reporters, shortly after the government scrapped the contract.

“We (the defence ministry) were not consulted. The S-band is mainly for strategic forces in which our army, navy and the air force have a major stake because it is a precious asset for us,” he said.

The defence minister said the availability of S-band radio waves was “limited and it has to be given mainly for strategic aspects”.

“That is the first priority. It (the deal) was unfortunate,” he said.

Despite the cancellation of the contract,the issue will continue to generate heat in the political sphere and during the budget session of parliament, political circles indicated.

The Left parties will seek the cooperation of other parties to press for a thorough probe into the S-band contract, Devarajan said.

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