Cabinet not informed of S-band commitment in ISRO-Devas deal: PM

Thursday, February 24, 2011

NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday that the cabinet had not been informed that the 2005 agreement between ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix and Devas also involved allocation of S-band spectrum, high value and scarce radiowaves, to the private firm.

Replying to supplementaries during question hour in the Rajya Sabha, the prime minister said the cabinet note dealing with the launch of two satellites as part of the deal between Antrix and Devas did not mention that there was “specific commitment (on spectrum)”.

The prime minister said that the cabinet came into the picture indirectly as it dealt with approval for launch of two satellites.

It was not mentioned in the cabinet note that there was a specific commitment between Devas and Antrix, he said.

He said there was no question of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) being asked to approve the deal.

The prime minister intervened after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prakash Javadekar wanted to know if any file related to the agreement had come for approval to the PMO and what was the reply given.

Earlier, responding to queries by T. N. Seema of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanasamy said the agreement between Antrix and Devas was concluded in 2005 but a decision was taken to annul it in July 2010 as S-band spectrum was needed for defence and societal needs.

The Space Commission took the decision (to annul it). It went to CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) which decided accordingly, Narayanasamy said.

He said that the agreement was based on the policy of 1997 which was approved by the cabinet in 2000, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was in power. The policy entailed that private players can also be given transponders, he added.

The minister said a committee has been constituted to look into various aspects of the deal and action would be taken against officials found guilty.

The Prime minister will take action, he said, adding that the decisions were the prerogative of Antrix and ISRO and the department did not come directly under the PMO.

A high powered committee will submit its report. The government will take action on its basis, he said.

Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said the decision related to launch of satellites was approved by the cabinet in December 2005 and wondered if the PMO was unaware of allocation of scarce S-band spectrum to the private firm till a decision was taken to annul the agreement.

He said that the agreement provided that the private company, which was an arm of a US company, was entitled to using 90 percent of 70 MHz S-band spectrum at quantum of money that was completely inadequate.

As other members from the opposition rose to ask more supplementaries, expressing their dissatisfaction with the reply of the minister, Chairman Hamid Ansari said more questions could not be permitted and the members could give a notice for discussion on the issue.

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