BJP, Left target government in fresh spectrum row (Roundup)

Monday, February 7, 2011

NEW DELHI - Even as the government battles the opposition tirade over the 2G spectrum scam, a fresh political controversy broke out Monday over the Comptroller and Auditor General’s reported estimates of a Rs.2 lakh crore loss to the exchequer due to an agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation’s commercial wing and a private company in 2005.

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left have demanded a probe into the reported CAG estimate of losses in the allocation of scarce S-band spectrum.

However, the CAG issued a statement Monday clarifying that the media reports of an alleged scam in a deal between the ISRO and a private firm cannot be seen as its findings.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman demanded a thorough inquiry into the estimates of loss and sought an immediate clarification from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the government’s position.

“The department of space is directly under the prime minister. It is a very serious scandal… There should be a comprehensive inquiry to establish criminality,” she said.

The Left parties termed as “very serious” reports alleging that the ISRO had benefitted a private firm through allocation of scarce S-band spectrum without a bidding process.

“This is a new issue… This is also a new scam,” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said here.

Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D. Raja said that the revelations added a new dimension to the 2G spectrum scam. He said ISRO deals with space which has implications for country’s security.

The Congress, however, was guarded in its reaction to the reports about the estimated loss in the preliminary CAG estimates.

Party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said that CAG findings automatically go to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

“This is a standard practice. Whenever CAG finds something, it automatically goes to the PAC. If certain issues have been raised (by CAG), the matter will go to PAC,” Ahmed said.

In its statement, the CAG said that the audit of certain activities of the Department of Space was being done.

“Very preliminary queries have been raised which are yet to be replied by that department. Since the audit is at very preliminary stage, it can by no stretch of imagination be concluded that information as given in the media reports are findings of this department,” the statement said.

Sitharaman sought cancellation of the 2005 agreement and alleged that 70 MHz of scarce S-band spectrum had been given to a private agency. She said the whole affair had been “vitiated by fraud.”

“It is not just a loss but frittering away of natural resources. The agreement should be revoked. Any loss of revenue should be recovered. We demand an immediate statement from the prime minister,” she said.

Sitharaman also said that Antrix Corporation Limited, which is the commercial arm of ISRO, signed an agreement with Devas Multimedia Private Limited for launching two satellites and added that the managing director of the private entity was a former scientific secretary of ISRO.

Equating the S-band spectrum with 5G telephony was unique, she said.

She said that government-owned telecom companies had been allotted 20 Mhz of the unique spectrum for Rs.12,487 crore. “But the private company had only been charged Rs.1,000 crore for 70 Mhz of this spectrum.”

“It has been done quietly to a private operator. It was objected to by the space commission. The commercial use by the private operator is going to start in mid-2011.

“Various process have been violated. The estimated loss to the exchequer is Rs.2 lakh crore,” Sitharaman said, adding that the loss estimated by CAG in the 2G spectrum scam was Rs.1.76 lakh crore.

According to one newspaper report, the agreement relates to ISRO’s launching of two satellites for Devas and bestows on the company a large hidden benefit of unbridled use of 70 MHz of the scarce S-band spectrum over 20 years.

Under the deal, Devas Multimedia is to get the broadband spectrum in the 2500 Mhz band. The report said that in 2010, the union government got nearly Rs.67,719 crore from the auction of just 15 MHz of similar airwaves for 3G mobile services.

According to preliminary CAG estimates, the spectrum largesse to a private player could have caused the exchequer a loss in excess of Rs.2 lakh crore, the report said, adding that the CAG had started inquiries into the 2005 agreement between Antrix Corporation and the private company.

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