The upright bureaucrat and the Antrix-Devas scam

Newsroom24x7 Network

New Delhi: The Antrix-Devas scam or call it Antrix-Devas case, would not have seen the light of day, had it not been for the intervention of upright bureaucrat Vijay Anand, the then Joint Secretary and Chief Vigilance officer in the Department of Space, who in November 2009, learned of possible irregularities relating to the Contract and initiated a preliminary, internal review of certain of the allegations including that “the minutes of a 6 January 2009 meeting of a review committee of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAG) of the Indian Satellite Coordination Committee (ICC) relating to the experimental licence requested by Devas Multimedia Private Limited had been altered in a manner that eliminated certain comments that had been made at the meeting by the representatives of the Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of the Department of Telecommunications (WPC), headed by the Wireless Advisor to the Government of India, from which Devas would have been required to seek its operating licence and frequency allocation.

A written agreement was signed between Antrix, an arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Devas Multimedia Private Limited, for the lease of space segment capacity on two satellites on 28 January 2005. Under this agreement, Antrix agreed to build, launch and operate two satellites and lease spectrum capacity on those satellites to Devas, which Devas planned to use to provide digital multimedia broadcasting services across India. In return, Devas agreed to pay to Antrix Upfront Capacity Reservation Fees (UCRF) of USD 20 million per satellite, and lease fees of USD 9 million to USD 11.25 million per annum. The lease term was twelve years, with a right of renewal at reasonable lease fees for a further twelve years.

In June 2010, Dr K. Radhakrishnan – the Chairman of Antrix as well as the Secretary of India’s Department of Space (DOS) and Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation and India’s Space Commission sought and obtained legal advice about annulling the agreement.

On 30 June 2010 the Department of Space provided a note to the Space Commission concerning the termination of the Devas Agreement. The note stated that its purpose was to “apprise Space Commission on certain concerns that have arisen” in relation to the Devas Agreement, to “apprise on the imperative demand for S-band transponders for strategic and societal applications that have emerged” since the agreement was signed, and to “seek guidance on the prudent utilization of the S-band spectrum of 150 MHz allocated to ISRO” and “further course of actions to be followed by DOS”.

Finally, a decision was taken by India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to annul the agreement and  Devas was notified of the CCS’ decision on 25 February 2011.

Devas alleged that Antrix was not entitled to terminate the Agreement and subsequently commenced arbitration and sought damages equal to the value of its business (which it claimed was USD 1.41 billion), plus interest and costs.

Initially Antrix did not participate in the arbitration by the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC Court). It denied that the tribunal had jurisdiction and commenced a separate arbitration concerning the Devas Agreement under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules and applied to the Supreme Court of India for an order that an arbitrator be appointed on behalf of Devas for that arbitration. When the Supreme Court rejected its application, Antrix took part in the ongoing arbitration.

The Delhi High Court on Monday 29 August 2022 set aside the 2015 arbitral award directing ISRO’s Antrix Corporation to pay USD 562.2 million as damages along with interest thereon to Devas Multimedia Private Limited for terminating their agreement in 2011, saying the award suffered from “patent illegalities and fraud”.

Read more: Delhi High Court sets aside Arbitral Award directing Antrix to pay US$ 562.2 million as damages to Devas Multimedia

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