[Satellite News 01-27-12] The Indian government has forced former Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman Gopalan Madhavan Nair and three of his colleagues to immediately resign all positions and roles with ISRO following the results of an investigation into a contract that was signed between ISRO’s commercial sector division Antrix and Devas Multimedia.
Nair retired from ISRO in 2009, but has since held several academic positions within the organization. The three other ISRO officials included in the disciplinary action are ISRO Secretary of Science K. Bhaskaranarayana, ISRO Satellite Center Director K. N. Shankara and Antrix Managing Director K. R. Sridharamurthi.
Antrix signed the agreement with Devas in January 2005 during Nair’s tenure, requiring ISRO to lease 90 percent of the transponder capacity on its two future S-band satellites to Devas for $264 million for the span of 12 years. The CSAT-6 and GSAT-6A satellite capacity was to be used for providing mobile broadband services.
In 2010, Indian government auditors said that ISRO’s price for the S-band capacity was set without competitive bidding and was far below market value. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered the investigation in May 2011 to determine whether ISRO officials had deliberately misled the nation’s cabinet into sanctioning the deal without knowing its terms.
The government terminated the deal in February 2011, causing Devas to file for arbitration with an international court in London to resolve the breach of contract. Antrix has issued a request to the Indian Supreme Court that the arbitration take place in India. That matter is currently under review, however, the government has determined that Nair and his three colleagues are barred from re-employment, committee roles or any other significant roles under the Indian government.
ISRO spokesman S. Satish confirmed that Nair has been asked to give up his national professorship at ISRO.
Both Nair and Sridharamurthi deny any wrongdoing, and told Indian press officials that the two may be considering legal action. “Once I get the details of the charges against me, I will decide on a course of action,” Nair said in the statement. “There is no requirement for reporting contracts to the cabinet, and that there was no competitive bidding because there were no competitors when the deal was signed in 2005.”
Nair blamed his successor, current ISRO Chairman Koppilli Radhakrishnan, accusing him of pursuing a “personal agenda” against him. Nair also told Indian newspapers that the ISRO had “gone to the dogs,” under Radhakrishnan’s leadership.
“A letter went from the Indian Department of Space to the higher-ups towards the end of 2009 or early 2010, seeking cancellation of the Antrix-Devas agreement,” Nair said in a statement. “He had made up his mind to take action on something and later lined up all arguments in favor of such a decision. This is totally unheard of.”
Both Radhakrishnan and ISRO declined to comment, however, ISRO Senior Scientist Narendra Bhandari issued a statement that he hopes the scandal would not affect India’s mission to Mars, which is set to launch in the next two years.
“This year is crucial for us. We also are planning to launch our first microwave satellite and test-fly our launcher using homemade cryogenic engines,” he said. India is additionally planning to send another mission to the Moon in 2014 and a manned spacecraft in orbit by 2020.