I’ve been barred without probe, former ISRO chief tells PM

Bangalore/Chennai, Jan 25 (IANS) The nixed Devas spectrum deal came again to haunt the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), as its former chairman G. Madhavan Nair complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he was barred from holding any government job without enquiry or an opportunity to be heard.

‘I have sent a representation to the prime minister, bringing to his notice that the decision to bar me was taken without any enquiry or giving me an opportunity to be heard,’ Nair told IANS Wednesday.

‘I still have the respect for the Indian president and the prime minister. I am sure they will look into the issue,’ Nair said.

The department of space Jan 13 barred Nair and three other top scientists from occupying any government position or being on official committees for allotting the scare S-band spectrum (radio waves) to the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia Ltd in violation of rules by the space agency’s commercial arm Antrix Corporation during their tenure.

‘I have not spoken on the Antrix-Devas deal for the past two years mainly to protect the image of ISRO as the organisation is more important,’ an anguished Nair maintained.

The other three noted scientists barred are — former scientific secretary A. Bhaskarnarayana, former satellite centre director K.N. Shankara and former Antrix executive director K.R. Sridharamurthi.

The 69-year-old eminent space scientist headed ISRO 2003-2009 and guided India’s first unmanned lunar mission to the moon (Chandrayaan-1) in 2008, when traces of ice water were detected for the first time by one of its instruments onboard.

Accusing ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan of inefficiency, Nair said the space agency had gone to ‘dogs’ under the present dispensation.

‘Radhakrishnan has not tarnished my image but the whole of ISRO community,’ a furious Nair asserted.

The bar against Nair was based on a report that went into the controversial multi-billion rupee Devas deal and on the recommendation of another panel that examined the report.

ISRO, however, chose to keep mum and declined to comment on Nair’s outburst against the space agency and its chairman Radhakrishnan.

‘We have no comments for the present. We will respond at the appropriate time. It is those against whom the order was issued who are reacting now,’ a senior space agency official told IANS.

Terming the bar order totally unjust, an upset Nair said he was not interested in serving any organisation under the current government.

‘Even in an autocratic/military regime an opportunity would have been given to the person who has been blacklisted. No such opportunity was given to me. I am shocked at the order which has not been served on me,’ Nair asserted.

Nair, who was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2009 and Padma Bhushan in 1998, said: ‘The Padma awards were not given to me in my personal capacity but as part of ISRO team and I do not have any plans to surrender them.’

Alleging that Radhakrishnan had been unable to live up to expectations of the space agency, Nair said his successor was resorting to actions like blacklisting others to divert attention.

‘He (Radhakrishnan) may not know the difference between transponders and satellites. During the past two years, ISRO has not announced any major project and the organisation will soon come to a grinding halt,’ he said.

‘Ever since he has taken over as chairman (in October 2003), ISRO’s total budgetary expenditure has come down to about 50 percent of the allocation. On the other hand, during my period, ISRO nearly made full utilisation of the budgetary allocation,’ Nair recalled.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in February 2011 estimated the loss to the exchequer to the tune of Rs.2 lakh crore (Rs.2 trillion) from the deal, under which Antrix was to provide 70 MHz S-Band spectrum to Devas.

Holding Radhakrishnan responsible for the blacklisting order, Nair said the present chairman was a member of the Antrix board when the deal with Devas was signed.

‘Though Radhakrishnan did not say anything at that point of time, (he) now says the deal was wrong. He has misled the government on the deal and killed it,’ Nair noted.

The former ISRO chief also said that the Suresh committee, appointed by Radhakrishnan, had given a clean chit for the deal.

In Nair’s view, the CAG had gone wrong in its estimation of the probable loss of revenue in the Antrix-Devas deal.

‘The satellite spectrum cannot be equated with the land-based radio waves as the former’s usage is restricted. The CAG has extrapolated the land-based spectrum usage to space-based one,’ Nair maintained.