New Delhi, India: Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India is inquiring into a 2005 agreement between Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) commercial arm Antrix Corporation Ltd and Devas Multimedia Private Ltd regarding the allocation of S-band broadband spectrum to the latter without the invitation of competitive bids, according to a report published in The Hindu.
The CAG is reported to have asked for an explanation from the Department of Space (DoS) on the preferential allocation of S-band spectrum to Devas without DoS/Antrix going through a competitive bidding process; on diverting public resources out of ISRO’s budget towards two customer-specific satellites for Devas Multimedia; and misinforming regulators about the project’s financial aspects and its full commercial implications.
According to Wikipedia, S-band is defined by an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard for radio waves with frequencies that range from 2 to 4 GHz. It is used by weather radars, surface ship radars and some communications satellites.
ISRO is under the Department of Science, which is directly in the Indian Prime Minister’s charge. Although it is too early to decipher the exact figure, but the dubious allocation of spectrum is said to have caused a loss of INR 200 billion to the national exchequer.
Devas Multimedia is a company in which Deutsche Telekom is a minority equity stakeholder. Dr. M.G. Chandrasekhar, Devas Multimedia Chairman, is a former Scientific Secretary at ISRO. “Under the deal, Devas Multimedia is to get access to 70 Mhz of broadband spectrum in the 2500 Mhz band. This was once used by Doordarshan to deliver programmes by satellite. In 2010, the government got nearly INR 67,719 crore from the auction of just 15 Mhz of similar airwaves for 3G mobile services,” the report said.
The CAG suspects foul-play because unlike in earlier contracts, ISRO places no restrictions on Devas Multimedia for onward leasing of spectrum. That means the company could make huge amounts of money by sub-leasing its privileges.
This is said to be the first time that S-band, which ranges from 2500 to 2690 Mhz, has been opened up to the private sector.
The CAG is concerned that ISRO’s internal procedures were flouted, while the Prime Minister’s Office, the Cabinet, and the Space Commission were not fully informed about the contract, including the underestimation of ISRO’s costs, report claims.