Eminent scientist Roddam Narasimha, the senior-most member of the Space Commission, who resigned yesterday to protest the blacklisting of former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair and three others in connection with the Antrix-Devas spectrum deal, has said that there may have been procedural lapses but barring these scientists from government jobs is unwarranted.
"It is not as if there were no procedural lapses in the deal, as detailed in the report," Mr Narasimha told NDTV.
Mr Narasimha also said that he has requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to accept his resignation. "I have requested the PM's office to allow me to relinquish my membership of the Space Commission. My resignation has not yet been accepted by PM's office. That is the status now...Do not want to comment on whether I will reconsider," he said.
78-year-old Narasimha has been associated with the Space Commission for over two decades and has been its longest member.
The resignation of Mr Narasimha could be considered a strong signal of support for Mr Nair, who himself has urged the space scientist to reconsider his decision. Mr Nair is also waiting for a response to his Right to Information (RTI) application for the full report of the committee that studied the Antrix-Devas deal.
A five-member committee, headed by former Chief Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha, was set up in May last year to study the controversial contract between ISRO's commercial arm Antrix and a private firm Devas over the sale of the scarce S-band spectrum. The deal was under the scanner over the said spectrum having been sold at inexplicably low prices under Mr Nair's tenure as the ISRO chief.
The committee's report, made public earlier this month, indicted Mr Nair and others in ISRO, saying the Devas-Antrix deal had "serious procedural lapses" but did not result in any loss to the exchequer. It further said that the deal "seems to be lacking in transparency and due diligence". The committee has further recommended action against Mr Nair and three other scientists - A Bhaskaranarayana, K R Sridhara Murthi and K N Shankara all of whom have since retired. The four were blacklisted by the government from holding any official position over their alleged role in the Antrix-Devas deal.
In 2005, ISRO's commercial arm, Antrix, agreed to build two satellites and provide scarce S-band spectrum for Devas, which planned to offer commercial broadband services. Devas was told to pay Rs. 1000 crore - a sweetheart deal that, according to some estimates, meant the government would incur losses worth Rs 2 lakh crore. Media reports rocketed the deal into controversy last year, especially embarrassing for the government since ISRO reports directly to the Prime Minister's Office.
Mr Nair blames his successor at ISRO, K Radhakrishnan, for misrepresenting the facts. "He (Radhakrishnan) has misled the Government on the whole issue (the controversial Devas deal). He is the key person who worked behind this; he misled and mis-communicated to the Government," alleged Mr Nair.
Meanwhile, Dr Radhakrishnan has said there is nothing personal against Mr Nair.