As a child, G Madhavan Nair, former head of Isro, dreamt of going to the moon. As an adult, he became the architect of India’s moon mission. However, his dream run at Isro ended in a nightmare following the controversial Antrix-Devas deal. Nair sought to make a clean breast of things in an interview to Zia Haq. Excerpts:
Why were you keen on the deal?
We have lost a great opportunity. The deal was to rid India of its reliance on foreign satellites for hand-held satellite communication. Nearly 40,000 villages that cannot be covered under normal terrestrial networks would have got telecom links, apart from Internet-based services.
But no bids were invited for the deal.
The existing policy provided only for deals based on a first-come-first-served basis. We had the mandate to lease satellite capacity. Isro’s responsibility was limited to building and launching satellites. Spectrum or frequency would have been allotted by the telecom department at its determined prices so it could have still vetoed the deal if it had felt there was something amiss.
You maintain there was no wrongdoing.
Absolutely. The entire deal was in conformity with the existing SatCom policy. You cannot retrospectively apply rules. We would have got the assured 13.8% returns over the project period of 12 years, one of the highest so far.
But you had told HT earlier that there was some “procedural deviation”.
Yes, to the extent that instead of naming the exact private partner in one of the communications, we said “some private parties.” That is a minor procedural quibble. That’s all.
What are your grievances?
The Pratyush Sinha inquiry committee has made a scapegoat of scientists. A different policy was in force then, to which the deal fully conforms. There was no sale of spectrum, unlike what is being made out. The government has confirmed there was no financial loss at all on account of the deal. So why this witch-hunt?