Haul them up

Haul them up

Those who caused the loss should be punished.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s (CAG) report on the controversial 2005 deal between ISRO’s Antrix Corporation and a Bangalore-based private firm Devas Multimedia on S-band spectrum is a severe indictment of ISRO officials, especially its then chairman, G Madhavan Nair. The report was laid in parliament this week and its conclusions need to be followed up. It endorses the findings of two earlier committees set up by the government which had found fault with the deal and held Madhavan Nair and others responsible in different ways for violation of rules and procedures and causing loss to the exchequer. The government also took some action on their basis and banned  them from holding any government positions in future. The CAG report is much more critical and scathing in its comments on the conduct of Nair with respect to the deal.

Madhavan Nair had protested too much against and expressed outrage over the reports and the action taken against him, and had claimed they were the result of a conspiracy against him by the present ISRO leadership. In the light of the CAG report, it seems Nair’s high pitch was meant as an offensive to defend himself. The report clearly says that  the Antrix-Devas deal was a case of public investment for private profit and was marked by a nexus between officials and private interests, secretiveness and violation of numerous rules, policies and procedures. It has noted that the ISRO leadership concealed facts from the cabinet and resorted to devices which helped to give maximum benefits to Devas at the cost of public interest. The report also sees it as an instance of governance failure in which officials succeeded in sidestepping the cabinet and worked for the agenda of a private party.

These are serious observations and expose the weakness of Nair’s position on the deal. The CAG cannot be said to have any personal motive in damning Madhavan Nair. It has not quantified the extent of loss to the exchequer but has hinted at it. It could be substantial. Those who caused the loss and  resorted to so many irregularities should be investigated further under relevant laws of the land and made to pay for their wrongdoing. Nair is a distinguished person who has made a big contribution to the ISRO and the nation. While acknowledging that, it would be wrong to ignore any wrongdoing he and others may have committed as detailed in the report.

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