Category Archives: Accountability

corruption and transparency in public life

ISRO, recruitment controversy, CVC & fair investigation

Lalit Shastri

This is to draw attention to the allegation that there has been nepotism and favoritism in the recruitment of the son of Secretary Department of Space and Chairman Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as Scientist/Engineer “SC” by Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC), under ISRO, Department of Space.

A complaint in this matter has been lodged with the Chief Vigilance Commissioner. The CVC has communicated that the complaint has been duly examined by the Commission and having regards to the nature of the issues raised, it has been forwarded to CVO, DEPARTMENT OF SPACE for necessary action.

Further, the CVC has underscored as the Commission has sent the complaint for necessary action, it does not expect any report from the CVO of the organization concerned. The CVO is expected to scrutinize the complaint within a period of one month of receipt of the complaint from the Commission and decide if any action is required.

Hence, the obvious conclusion is that the role of the CVC in this matter ends and now the ball is entirely in the court of the CVO, DEPARTMENT OF SPACE.

The CVO, Department of Space, is a joint Secretary, reporting to the Secretary. The Confidential Report of the Joint Secretary is also written by the Secretary. Hence, there will be conflict of interest as a subordinate officer would investigate the allegation of favouritism and nepotism against a superior officer.

Moreover, a press release was also issued on Sunday 14 February 2021 by Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) under DoS, ISRO) reiterating that all posts recruited in LPSC are strictly as per procedures and norms laid out by the Department. Due to this statement by LPSC while the matter is before the vigilance authority, question arises whether or not the investigation by CVO, Department of Space, into allegation of nepotism in recruitment will be free fair and without prejudice? This question is being raised in public interest and for the sake of transparency.

Postscript: Since the PMO is seized of the matter and the Department of Space is directly under the Prime Minister, it would be appropriate if a Secretary in the PMO conducts the investigation.

Lalit Shastri is Editor-in-Chief Newsroom24x7

CBI registers case in the huge Antrix-Devas scam

Lalit Shastri

antrix-devas scamThe Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against K.R. Sridharamurthi (former MD of ANTRIX), Ram Vishwanathan of USA based Forge Advisors LLC, MG Chandrasekhar, a former ISRO official and chairman of Devas and Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd of Bangalore in the huge Antrix-Devas S-band Transponders scam.

The 2005 agreement between Antrix Corporation Limited (ANTRIX) of Department of Space (DoS) and DEVAS Multimedia Private Limited for lifetime lease of 90 per cent capacity of S-band Transponders of two Satellites that were to be built by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is a huge scam that opened up the Pandora’s box and points to high-level conspiracy and total systemic failure that could have even jeoparised the security of India.

In the midst of allegations and mudslinging, the ANTRIX-Devas agreement, which was signed when Mr G. Madhavan Nair was chairman ISRO, was canceled in February 2011. Commenting on the findings of the high powered review panels and the Government’s action taken report released by ISRO, a Ministry of Space source had told me at that point of time that the proposal from Devas was not put on the agenda when the ANTRIX Board took it up for consideration without even a proper quorum. Even the minutes of the Board meeting were not signed. He went on to point out that all talk of restructuring ANTRIX and reforms in the Space Commission would amount to putting the same wine in the same bottle unless the posts of Chairman of Space Commission, Secretary Department of Space, and Chairman of ISRO are not segregated.

A High Powered B.K. Chaturvedi-Prof Roddam Narasimha Review Committee (HPRC), appointed by government of India had reviewed the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the Agreement and categorically pointed out that the agreement with Devas indicated certain financial and strategic gaps and the then Chairman ANTRIX Board/Secretary DOS, Director SATCOM, ISRO member Finance, and Space Commission were primarily responsible for the lapse.

Another five-member High Level Team (HLT) constituted under the chairmanship of Pratyush Sinha IAS (Retd) and former CVC, with mandate to examine acts of omission and commission submitted its report to the Government on September 2, 2011.

The SATCOM Policy was approved by the Union Cabinet in January 2000 and the INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC) was authorised to earmark at least certain percentage of INSAT transponders capacity for use by non-governmental users. While ICC met 78 times between 1978 and 2004, it failed to meet even once between 2004 and 2009. The responsibility of calling the ICC meeting lay with Secretary, DOS and Director (SCPO), who were chairman and secretary of ICC.

When technology for multimedia mobile services based on space platform was evolving in 2004-05 a proposal was received by ANTRIX/ISRO from Forge Advisors of USA for a joint venture in April 2004.

The Chaturvedi-Narasimha panel pointed out in its report that the agreement signed with Devas in January 2005, which provided for two satellites PS1 and PS2 had several weaknesses. The agreement was signed with a company which had paid up share capital of only Rs. 100,000. ANTRIX/ISRO had to launch the satellite and penalty had to be paid by them if they did not adhere to the agreed time frame. ISRO committed itself to launching the satellite and incurring the risk of searching for alternative users if Devas failed to develop the new technology for mobile services. While ISRO was to invest about Rs. 800 crore in two satellites and their launches, it provided 90 per cent of the 2500-2690 MHz band leaving very little spectrum with ISRO for any strategic or societal use in future. It has been pointed out that any other multimedia mobile service (MMS) use in the band would not have been efficient due to interference of signals.

A delegation, led by the then ISRO chairman Dr. K. Kasturirangan, had visited the US in July-Agust 2003. Before that Forge Advisors, a consulting firm, had visited India and made presentation to ISRO in March-May 2003. During Dr. Kasturirangan’s US visit an MoU was signed between ANTRIX and FA-USA. Nothing was mentioned about MMS in this MoU. Subsequently a proposal was submitted by FA-USA stating that ISRO was to invest in the space segment and FA-USA in the ground segment for forming a strategic partnership for launching a satellite based national service. Even while a committee headed by Dr. K.N. Shankara, Director Space Application Centre, Ahemedabad was examining the proposal, the ANTRIX Board unanimously accorded in principle approval for processing the JV proposal with Devas on June 11, 2004.

Subsequently, after the Shankara Committee had suggested that Devas would pay annual fee of $11.25 million instead of proposed $ 9 million for the lease period “when Devas became cash positive”, the ANTRIX Board approved the draft agreement with Devas. It was also noted that FA-USA were promoting the establishment of an Indian company called Devas Multimedia Pvt. Limited, which would establish the service and lease the capacity for it. This was a company formed by former ISRO scientists.

On May 26, 2005, a proposal was placed in the meeting of Space Commission for approving design, manufacture and launch of GSAT-6/INSAT-4E.The proposal was approved by the Cabinet in December 2005 and on February 2, 2006 ANTRIX informed Devas of receipt of approvals on the satellite frequency coordination and the contract thus became effective from that date.

The contract was formalized when it was not clear what technologies FA-USA had access to full intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Knowledge on this count was important for the business model of transponder leasing eventually adopted by ANTRIX as the satellite system had to be configured keeping the available technology required for hand-held devices in perspective. The High Powered Committee set up by the Government made it clear that the ANTRIX-Devas Project was a clear violation of government policy and the ANTRIX-Devas agreement, which had provided 90 per cent of the transponder capacity of the first satellite and the same proportion of a second satellite to be used by Devas. This meant utilization of a large part of the S-band spectrum by one private user-Devas. This was against the INSAT Policy, which was “non-exclusive.

The Committee also took the view that from the national security perspective, allocation of a large part of the spectrum to a private player like Devas was unjustified from the security point of view. This was more so since Devas had later entered into an agreement and transferred the controlling rights to Deutsche Telekom AG (DT). The committee pointed out specifically that for this failure, which undermines the security needs of the country, the responsibility primarily lay with the then Secretary DOS and Director SATCOM, and Chairman ISRO/ANTRIX Board.

In a statement on February 4, 2012, ISRO had issued a statement and pointed out that a High Powered Review Committee and a High Level Team have been reconstituted to conduct necessary investigation for possible acts of omission and commission linked with the ANTRIX-DEVAS Agreement h by bringing in new people and dropping others including those whose names have surfaced in the reports of the High Powered Review Committee and the High Level Team.
If and when the Government decides to institute criminal or other charges against any person, that person will be provided appropriate opportunity and due process shall be followed.

The Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs and Department of Revenue were asked to conduct necessary investigation for possible acts of omission and commission leading to the agreement between Antrix Corporation Limited (ANTRIX) of Department of Space (DoS) and Bangalore based DEVAS Multimedia Private Limited on January 28, 2005 for lifetime lease of 9 per cent capacity of S-band Transponders of two Satellites, to be built by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Inquiries by me at that time had revealed that the Ministry of Corporate Affairs had initiated a probe but the Enforcement Directorate had not started investigations into the leasing of two satellites by Anrix to a company lacking credible standing.

Government of India had set up the High Powered Review Committee (HPRC) on February 10, 2011, to review the technical,commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the Agreement Antrix Corporation Limited (ANTRIX) had entered into with DEVAS. ISRO later clarified that appropriate Committees have been reconstituted by bringing in new people and dropping others including those whose names have surfaced in the reports of the High Powered Review Committee and the High Level Team (HLT).

The HLT had sought “clarifications” from all the officers who at any point in time had dealt with the files concerning the Antrix-DEVAS agreement and the decisions on the satellites. Apart from G Madhavan Nair (former Secretary of DOS); A. Bhaskaranarayana, (former Director of SATCOM Office and former Scientific Secretary of ISRO); and S.S. Meenakshisundaram (former Member Finance, Space Commission),the HLT included to the list, K.R. Sridharamurthi (former MD of ANTRIX); Dr. K.N. Shankara (former Director of ISRO Satellite Centre and Chairman of the Committee for evaluation of DEVAS proposal); Ms. Veena S. Rao (former Additional Secretary, DoS); G. Balachandhran (former Additional Secretary/FA, DoS) and Dr. R.G. Nadadur (Additional Secretary/FA, DoS and former Joint Secretary, DoS), for seeking clarifications.

Selection of Chairperson and Members in Lokpal held up

Newsroom24x7 Desk

LokpalNew Delhi, Feb 3: After the applications have already been received, the selection of Chairperson and Members in Lokpal is held up as the process, which would include the constitution of the Search Committee by the Selection Committee and other steps, can can continue only after the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and other related law (Amendment) Bill, 2014 that was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 18, 2014 is passed by Parliament.

The quorum of the Selection Committee under section 4 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 Act is at present incomplete. In order to address certain issues which have arisen in relation to the composition of the Selection Committee and the constitution of a Search Committee by the Selection Committee under section 4 of the Act, and some other difficulties in implementing the provisions of the Act, Government introduced the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and other related law (Amendment) Bill, 2014 in Lok Sabha.

The advertisement and vacancy circular for the posts of Chairperson and Members,Lokpal had been issued by the Central Government in pursuance of the Search Committee Rules and notified in the Gazette of India (Extraordinary) on January 17, 2014.

A number of writ petitions were filed in various High Courts and in the Supreme Court, challenging some of the provisions of the Search Committee Rules. After re-examining these rules, the Central Government issued a Gazette Notification on August 27, 2014 to notify the Search Committee (Constitution, Terms and Conditions of appointment of members and the manner of selection of Panel of Names for appointment of Chairperson and Members of Lokpal) (Amendment) Rules, 2014. Sub-rule (2) of rule 10 of these Rules, provided for an advertisement and inviting of nominations from various authorities by the Central Government (DOPT), has now been substantially modified. Sub-rule (2) now merely provides that the Central Government shall provide such assistance as may be required by the Search Committee in efficient discharge of its functions in accordance with the provisions of the Act.

The role of the Central Government, which originally included the circulation of vacancies to the Registrars of Supreme Court and High Courts and the issuance of an advertisement, has now been modified and is now limited to providing assistance by the Search Committee. Under the amended rule, the Search Committee will have powers to adopt short-listing norms that it may consider appropriate for the purpose of short-listing of persons.

Officers raise voice against putting property returns in the public domain

Lalit Shastri

north blockAs the extended deadline is round the corner, pressure has started mounting on officers and public servants, who are yet to file their revised property returns under the Lokpal Act. The voice of dissent is getting sharper among a section of civil servants who are opposed to placing the officers’ property returns in public domain.

When asked to share their views on the mandatory requirement of filing their property returns and the official practice of putting the details in the public domain through government websites, a cross-section of officers were unanimous in their view. They told newsroom24x7 that they should have no objection when it comes filing or placing their returns before the government or their respective departments. Nothing should deter or prevent them from doing this but the real problem arises when the details of their immovable property and movable assets are placed in the public domain.  A senior bureaucrat said that placing their property returns on websites has its own pitfall. He elaborated this point by stating: “this could become a huge security risk for a bureaucrat and members of his family if they have inherited wealth and happen to be rich or super-rich due to family legacy. He drew attention to the prevailing security environment both within and outside the country and said that even school going children from such families would face round-the-clock threat as they would be under the scanner of the terrorists and those who resort to criminal acts like kidnapping and extortion.

By end-December 2014, the Government of India department of Personnel and Training wrote to all State chief Secretaries drawing attention to the extended deadline for filing returns. The letter said: “The time limit for filing revised property returns by public servants has been extended from Dec 31 to April 30, 2015 “The last date for filing revised property returns by those who have filed property returns under the existing rules stands extended up to April 30, 2015. The prime minister has further directed that all preparatory steps be put in place for this purpose by Jan 31, 2015.”

The Establishment Officer and Additional Secretary Department of Personnel B.P. Sharma on July 25, 2014 had issued another letter to all Chief Secretaries of States and Union Territories with copies marked to Secretaries of all the Departments and Ministries of Government of India stating: “In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 59 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, the Government of India has notified the rules (on July 14) to provide for furnishing of information and annual return containing declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants as on 31st day of March every year, to the competent authority, on or before the 31st day of July of that year under section 44 of the said Act.”

The July 25 letter also categorically stated that the public servants who have filed declarations, information and annual returns of property under the provisions of the rules applicable to such public servants “shall file the revised declarations, information or as the case may be, annual returns as on the 1st day of August, 2014, to the competent authority on or before the 15th day of September 2014.”

Barely two days before this, on July 23, another letter had been issued to all ministries and government of India departments by the department of Personnel and Training pointing towards the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act. 2013 with regard to the submission of declaration of assets and liabilities by the “public servants” for each year and placing the same in public domain on the websites of the Ministries and Departments. It also specified that the definition of public servant covers all Central Government servants (Groups A. B and C) while underlining that all Central Govenment servants are reqired to file the declaration.  The latter also underlined that “this is an important difference from the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules 1964.”