NEW DELHI: The government was Monday faced with another suspected scam which can cost the exchequer up to Rs two lakh crore concerning a deal between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and a private company and in a quick response it was announced that the pact was under review.
After a news report Monday morning that ISRO’s commercial arm – Antrix Corporation – has entered into a deal with Devas Multimedia Services that was allegedly conferred unbridled use of 70 MHz of scarce S-band spectrum over a 20 year-period, the Department of Space came out with a late night statement.
“The Department (of Space) wishes to clarify that the agreement entered into by Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO, and M/s Devas on January 28, 2005, is already under review by the DoS and the government will take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard public interest. A decision on the matter is likely to be taken soon,” it said.
Devas is owned by Mr M G Chandrasekhar, former Scientific Secretary, ISRO. The DoS statement climaxed a day of strong attacks by opposition parties which targeted the government and demanded a clarification from the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. The DoS comes directly under the Prime Minister.
Earlier in the day, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said its attention has been drawn to reports appearing in media regarding audit being undertaken by Audit and Accounts Department of DoS. The report said according to preliminary estimates by CAG this spectrum ‘largesse” to a private party could cost the exchequer in excess of Rs two lakh crore.
“The news item gives the impression as if our audit has been finalised. This office clarifies that audit of certain activities of DoS is under way. 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 CAG statement said.
Reacting to the media report, political parties attacked the government saying the matter was “very serious” and demanded a thorough probe into the “new scam.” Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, Ms Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters at the party briefing that this was a “very serious scandal as it involves a very unique and rare spectrum. The Department of Space is directly under the Prime Minister. He should immediately clarify his stand on the whole issue.” “We demand a comprehensive inquiry to establish the criminality in the whole matter. We also demand recovery of the lost revenue,” she said.
Left parties said the news reports pointed towards a ‘new scam” and demanded a “thorough probe” into the matter. “This is a new issue. The ISRO is under the Department of Space which is under Prime Minister. This is also a new scam,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member Mr Sitaram Yechury said.
Congress refused to comment on the merit of the case saying it was for Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to examine any matter that causes a loss to the exchequer. “There is a standard procedure. Whenever the CAG finds something that has caused loss to the government, it automatically goes to the PAC. I hope this matter also goes to the PAC,” Congress spokesman Mr Shakeel Ahmed said.