M A I N   N E W S

New Spectrum scam hits UPA ahead of Budget session
* ISRO admits deal is under review, CAG claims audit far from final
* Oppn targets govt, wants thorough probe and explanation from PM
Tribune News Service & PTI

The S-band

  • Devas Multimedia was given access to 70 MHz of broadband Spectrum, once used by Doordarshan to deliver programmes by satellite in the country
  • Last year, the government earned Rs 67,719 crore from the auction of just 15 MHz of similar airwaves
  • The S-band frequency is globally used for providing mobile services using fourth generation technologies such as WiMax

ISRO’s clarification

  • The deal is under review
  • A decision is expected soon in public interest
  • The CAG has only made inquiries so far

CAG’s stand

  • Audit at a preliminary stage
  • Questions have been raised
  • Reply from the department awaited

New Delhi/Bangalore, February 7
A reported deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation and a private firm for allocation of a S-band Spectrum — that a media report claims could cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 2 lakh crore — has provided further grist to the Opposition mill.

The BJP and Left parties today demanded a thorough probe into a reported pact between Antrix Corporation, an ISRO arm and Devas Multimedia Private Ltd that allegedly confers unbridled use of 70 MHz of S-band Spectrum over a 20-year period.

In what appeared to be a virtual admission by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that all was not well with regard to its deal with the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia, the ISRO today said the agreement was already under review.

In a clarification issued during the day, the CAG stated, “The news item in question gives the impression as if our audit has been finalised. This office clarifies that audit of certain activities of the Department of Space is underway. Very preliminary queries have been raised which are yet to be replied by that department. Since the audit is at a very preliminary stage, it can, by no stretch of imagination, be concluded that information as given by the media reports are findings of this department.”

The CAG’s denial apart, the principal opposition party, the BJP, lost no time in asking the Prime Minister to clear the air and initiate an inquiry besides taking steps to recover the lost revenue.

“The entire affair is vitiated by fraud. This country is facing not only loss of revenue but frittering away of a valuable national asset which is a rare spectrum,” BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said. The party sought immediate revocation of the said agreement and recovery of lost spectrum granted to a private user at allegedly throwaway prices.

The BJP, while terming the matter as “extremely serious”, raised questions on the PM, as the Department of Space is directly under him.

The Left Parties declared the matter was extremely worrisome and needed to be looked into. The CPM linked the issue to the larger 2G Spectrum scam, using it as fresh ammunition for its JPC probe demand into the Spectrum mess.

“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 Department of Space and the government will take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard public interest. A decision on the matter is likely to be taken soon,” ISRO said in a statement issued here.

Devas Multimedia also issued a statement on the controversy. “There are factual inaccuracies in the stories reported and Devas Multimedia has not received any communication regarding the contract from ISRO/Antrix or any other government agency. We do not own any spectrum, and the services we provide will be based on satellite transponders leased from ISRO/Antrix, wherein both -- the satellite and the spectrum -- belong to the space research organisation.

“Contrary to reports, the GSAT 6 satellite programme already has approval from the Union Cabinet and Space Commission for its services, and Devas is developing an innovative satellite system. With reputed investors backing the company, Devas has already secured permanent government approvals and licences to offer ISP services on its system, for which specific time-bound technical trials were conducted in 2009.”

Importantly, in July last year the Law Ministry had recommended abrogation of this deal. Devas sold a stake to a group of foreign investors, including Deutsche Telekom and private equity firm Columbia Capital, after the frequency spectrum was allotted to it. The ministry reportedly described the contract as “illegal” and said the government should take back the spectrum to protect “national interest”.





S-band Spectrum is a money-spinner
Girja Shankar Kaura/TNS

New Delhi, February 7
The ‘giving away’ of the precious S-band Spectrum - which has brought the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) into sharp focus, with the agency being accused of causing the national exchequer a loss of almost Rs two lakh crore - could have further repercussions for the government as it is extremely valuable for mobile broadband services.

A part of the deal between the ISRO and a private company Devas, the Spectrum, which is also the most abundantly available, is extremely valuable from not only the usage point of view but also for the money it can generate.

Close on the heels of the highly explosive investigations into the 2G Spectrum allotments made in 2008 by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which has put the Congress-led UPA Government on the backfoot, the country’s top audit body, Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), is now inquiring into a 2005 agreement between an ISRO arm, Antrix, and private firm Devas Multimedia for 20-year use of 70 MHz of the S-band Spectrum.

The CAG estimates that the giving of such a large quantity of Spectrum to a private customer could have caused the exchequer a loss in excess of Rs two lakh crore, while as per the contract with Devas, Antrix would have earned just $11 million a year per satellite for 12 years. The agreement relates to ISRO’s launching of two satellites for Devas but automatically bestows on the latter a large hidden benefit of this 70 MHz of the S-band Spectrum.

Under the deal, the Devas Multimedia is to get access to 70 MHz of broadband Spectrum in the 2500 MHz band, which was once used by Doordarshan to deliver programmes by satellite to all parts of the country but is now considered to be of enormous commercial value for high-speed, terrestrial mobile communications.

Incidentally, last year, the government earned Rs 67,719 crore from the auction of just 15 Mhz of similar airwaves for 3G mobile services.

According to experts, the S-band frequency, also known as 2.5 GHz band, is globally used for providing mobile broadband services using fourth generation technologies such as WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE).

This frequency band has a substantial amount of Spectrum (190 MHz) that can be put to use for mobile services. All other Spectrum bands up to 3.5 GHz include significantly smaller amounts of Spectrum for terrestrial mobile communication, or are not available.

Reports suggest that of the 190 Mhz available in India, the Department of Space was given 150 Mhz - 30 years ago - for Broadcast Satellite Service and Mobile Satellite Service. Recently, 20 MHz was given to the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd for offering broadband Spectrum.

The BSNL and the MTNL were asked to pay Rs 12,847 crore for their 20 MHz. But Devas is getting access to 70 MHz in the same band for just over Rs 1,000 crore. Globally, this frequency band has been put up for auction in many countries and has fetched governments billions of dollars.



Govt, Oppn under pressure ahead of all-party meet
Faraz Ahmad & Aditi Tandon/TNS

New Delhi, February 7
Ahead of the crucial all-party meeting called by Leader of the House in the Lok Sabha and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee tomorrow to resolve the impasse in Parliament on the Opposition demand for a JPC probe into the 2G scam, Speaker Meira Kumar spoke to members of smaller parties today to restore normalcy in the forthcoming Budget session.

The Speaker’s meeting reflected the government’s anxiety to prevent the repeat of the winter session that was washed out completely. At the meeting, Kumar suggested a “middle path” on the issue and said: “Many suggestions have been received and we have to find a middle path so that the House runs.”

The Speaker sounded hopeful after meeting various party leaders. “I believe the House will run on February 21,” she said. The government even while seeking to resolve the deadlock expressed its compulsions through Pranab Mukherjee, who said: “Constitution of JPC will only lead to duplication. The CBI and the PAC are already looking into the issue. What will the JPC do?”

It has to be seen what offer Pranab makes on government’s behalf tomorrow. But while the government or the Opposition may continue to maintain their respective formal stance, a lot of back room diplomacy is going on. The latest government emissary was Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who met Left leaders today. But if the government is caught in a pincer on this tricky JPC demand, the Opposition is also not in a particularly happy situation.

While officially the BJP has been maintaining that it won’t allow the House to run if the JPC is not constituted, privately some party leaders have admitted that they cannot afford to obstruct the Budget session.



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