A reported deal between ISRO and a private firm for allocation of scarce spectrum that a media report claims could cost the exchequer a whopping Rs two lakh crore has provided further grist to the Opposition mill even as the Government announced that the pact was under review.
After a news report this morning that ISRO's commercial arm -- Antrix Corporation -- has entered into a deal with Devas Multimedia Services that allegedly confers unbridled use of 70 MHz of scarce S-band spectrum over a 20 year-period, the Department of Space came out with a late night statement.
"The Department (of Space) wishes to clarify that the Agreement entered into by Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO, and M/s. Devas on January 28, 2005 is already under review by the DoS and the government will take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard public interest. A decision on the matter is likely to be taken soon," it said.
Devas is owned by M G Chandrasekhar, former Scientific Secretary, ISRO.
The DoS statement climaxed a day of strong attacks by opposition parties which targetted the government and demanded a clarification from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The DoS comes directly under the Prime Minister.
Earlier in the day, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said its attention has been drawn to reports appearing in media regarding audit being undertaken by Audit and Accounts Department of DoS. The report said according to preliminary estimates by CAG this spectrum "largesse" to a private party could cost the exchequer in excess of Rs two lakh crore.
"The news item gives the impression as if our audit has been finalised. This office clarifies that audit of certain activities of DoS is 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 statement said.
Reacting to the media report, political parties attacked the government saying the matter was "very serious" and demanded a thorough probe into the "new scam".
BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters at the party briefing that the this was a "very serious scandal as it involves a very unique and rare spectrum. The Department of Space is directly under the Prime Minister. He should immediately clarify his stand on the whole issue".
"We demand a comprehensive inquiry to establish the criminality in the whole matter. We also demand recovery of the lost revenue," she said.
Left parties said the news reports pointed towards a "new scam" and demanded a "thorough probe" into the matter.
"This is a new issue. The ISRO is under the Department of Space which is under Prime Minister. This is also a new scam," CPI(M) Politburo member Sitaram Yechury said.
CPI National Secretary D Raja said the new revelations were "very serious", a view echoed by senior RSP leader Abani Roy who demanded that the matter be brought under the JPC into 2G spectrum allocations.
Congress refused to comment on the merit of the case saying it was for Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to examine any matter that causes a loss to the exchequer.
"There is a standard procedure. Whenever the CAG finds something that has caused loss to the government, it automatically goes to the PAC. I hope this matter also goes to the PAC," Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said.