BJP seeks probe, response from PM in new spectrum controversy

Monday, February 7, 2011

NEW DELHI - The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Monday demanded a comprehensive probe into the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) estimates of a Rs.2 lakh crore loss to the exchequer due to an agreement between Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) commercial wing and a private company in 2005. They also sought an immediate clarification from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 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,” BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said here.

Seeking cancellation of the 2005 agreement, she alleged that 70 MHz of scarce S-band spectrum had been given to a private agency and 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 said that Antrix Corporation Limited, which is 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, she said that it was unique.

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, she said.

“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,” she said, adding that the loss estimated by CAG in the 2G spectrum scam was Rs.1.76 lakh crore.

According to a report in The Hindu newspaper, 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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