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ISRO spectrum deal under review: Centre

Sandeep Joshi

Audit is in very preliminary stage, says CAG

NEW DELHI: In the aftermath of the expose by Business Line and The Hindu, the Central government said on Monday that it was in the process of reviewing the deal between the Indian Space Research Organisation's commercial arm Antrix Corporation Ltd. and the Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. that gave Devas free access to scarce spectrum worth an estimated Rs. 2 lakh crore.

“The agreement entered into by Antrix and Devas on January 28, 2005 is already under review by the Department of Space and the government will take whatever steps necessary to safeguard public interest. A decision on the matter is likely to be taken soon,” ISRO said in a statement that was released here as well as in Bangalore. ISRO comes under the Department of Space, which is under the charge of the Prime Minister.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India is currently auditing the 2005 agreement between the two firms that gives Devas Multimedia unbridled use of 70 MHz of spectrum, used for high-speed terrestrial mobile communications, over a 20-year period.

Reacting to the reports, the CAG said the audit of certain activities of the Department of Space was under way. “Very preliminary queries have been raised which are yet to be replied by that department. Since the audit is at very preliminary stage, it can by no stretch of imagination be concluded that information as given in the media reports are findings of this department,” the CAG said.

The DoS statement also referred to this clarification by the CAG.

Interestingly, the Law Ministry had already asked the Department of Space to nullify the deal between Antrix and Devas after the DoS had sought its view on the matter. Even the Space Commission in July 2010 had strongly objected to the deal and recommended scrapping of the agreement between the two companies.

When contacted, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) refused to comment on this particular case. However, a senior official pointed out that the delay in a thorough review of the usage of spectrum being held by various government agencies is the root cause of the mess.

“In May last year, we had forwarded our recommendations asking the Department of Telecommunications [which is the custodian of spectrum in the country] to allow it to review of the usage of spectrum available with various government agencies,” a TRAI official said.

“We wanted to find out the spectrum actually in use by government agencies and draw up a suitable schedule for release of spectrum for telecom sector for speedier roll out of more efficient telecom and broadband services in the country,” the official said. The government is yet to accept the recommendations.

Out of the total 1,161 MHz of available spectrum in the identified bands, 40-55 per cent is with the government agencies including the Defence and the DoS and only 85 MHz of radio waves is likely to be available by 2014. This is despite the fact that the telecom sector is facing severe dearth of spectrum.

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