This will not work, this will kill Antrix: U R Rao

This will not work, this will kill Antrix: U R Rao

Just as the Devas controversy began to erupt, the Space Commission announced that the Antrix Corporation would be restructured. The restructuring essentially means that the Secretary of Space, who holds concurrent charge as Chairman of Isro and Antrix, would no longer head Antrix. The commercial arm of Isro would soon have a separate person as Chairman and Managing Director (CMD).

Isro Chairman K Radhakrishnan has stated that the decision to restructure had been taken a few months ago following an internal review, seeking it to delink the move from the Devas controversy. The decision to have a separate CMD for Antrix has been justified on the ground that it would help in the expansion of business.

“This will not work, this will kill Antrix,” is what U R Rao told Deccan Herald when this reporter sought his reaction on the subject. The former chairman of Isro was instrumental in setting up Antrix in 1992. He had envisaged it as an organisation that
would be competitive and grow along with the nascent space technologies market.

He defended the existing arrangement saying it had been working well for several years now “This (model) was not conceived lightly. A lot of thought went into it and it was
personally approved by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi,” Rao says. “It was meant to be a lean organisation. It was carefully conceived and configured,” he adds.

Rao explains that without the Isro chief present or in the know about commercial ventures that Antrix might sign, it would be impossible to decide what projects should get preference. There are many takers for Rao’s opinion as Antrix has no manufacturing capability. It only signs projects that have to be implemented by Isro.

Resistance is possible

“There are hundreds of projects. When you buy or sell something there are contractual obligations. How do you make sure they are kept? Somebody has to ensure that the project is completed on time or there will be a penalty.  I cannot go to someone else’s house and say that I will dictate terms. Antrix is Isro’s baby. You cannot just ask it to give up the baby,” says U R Rao.

Rao believes that if an outsider tries to dictate terms about what projects need to be completed based on commercial considerations, Isro’s  internal divisions may resist. “Isro’s scientists might resent being told not to work on projects, which are crucial and form a considerable part of Isro’s satellite portfolio,” Rao added.

Despite Rao’s spirited defence of existing arrangement and despite Isro’s mandate to give preference to projects to enhance national capability, it remains a fact that Antrix signed a lopsided deal with Devas Multimedia Private Limited. It then failed to inform the Cabinet of the true nature of the agreement. It later claimed that the agreement was under review for more than a year and was close to being terminated, but did not bother to inform Devas that anything was amiss.

Many in the industry say there is a case for Antrix, which generates revenue through space-related services such as remote sensing, lease of transponders, launching of services through PSLV, GSLV and other consultancy services, to step up further.

Antrix was conferred the ‘mini ratna’ status in 2008 and its turnover crossed Rs 1,000 crore in 2009. But for the year 2009-10, Antrix turnover fell to Rs 883.92 crores, 16.52 per cent lower than the preceding year. Antrix blamed the dip on ‘capacity constraints’, the inability of Isro to fulfill projects taken up on a commercial basis as it was tied up with its own projects.

While there is indeed a case to make Antrix more effective, is the proposed restructuring a solution to whatever the company is ailing from? That only time can tell.  

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