Uncover the truth

The findings of the two high-powered committees that went into the Antrix-Devas deal of 2005, which have now been released, not only vindicate the action taken against former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair and three other senior scientists who were involved in the deal but also make a case for further investigation and action. The reports have made it clear that there were many  policy violations and procedural lapses in the deal and these could have been committed to  benefit Devas Multimedia, a private company floated by former ISRO personnel. There is even suspicion that  there was collusive behaviour on the part of the ISRO scientists, who should be held responsible for not considering the implications of the deal, concealing many vital facts from the government and leading the department of space into a faulty arrangement.

The findings point to arbitrary decision-making, lack of adequate financial and technical evaluation, absence of transparency, obfuscations and granting of favours to the private company at the cost of public interest. It was noticed that the space commission’s approval was sought without disclosing the existence of the agreement which had already been signed. While Devas was given preferential treatment there was also an attempt to create a wrong impression that there was fair competition based on expressions of interest from other service providers. There are also serious questions about the shareholding pattern of Devas, which was a loss-making company with a share capital of Rs 1 lakh but received a foreign investment of Rs 578 crore. The company managed to collect high share premium though it had no strong financial base or proven technical capability.  It was formed a few weeks before the agreement, and the investment interest in it could only have been the result of the deal. The national security angle was also ignored when the agreement was signed.

These are serious and troubling issues that call for proper investigation. Personalisation of the action against him, as Madhavan Nair has done, and the emotional response he has made, will not help to clear the air. It has also come to be known that Nair’s charge of denial of opportunity to present his case is not entirely correct. The Pratyush Sinha committee has also suggested a probe into possible illegitimate financial gains made by the concerned officials. The investigation should cover not only the former ISRO officials but others who were expected to oversee their decisions.

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