The chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will no longer head its commercial arm, Antrix, the space policy body decided on Saturday in the backdrop of a controversy that has shaken it.
The Space Commission’s decision to appoint a full-time chairman and managing director for Antrix — currently headed by the Isro chairman — is officially the outcome of the mini-Ratna status awarded to Antrix in 2008. But an official confirmed the proposal for separation of the leadership roles of Isro and Antrix was also to ensure Antrix receives full attention, “particularly in the light of recent events”.A 2005 deal between Antrix and Bangalore-based multimedia firm Devas is under the scrutiny of a PM-appointed panel after allegations of loss to the exchequer and corruption were levelled by Opposition parties.
The Space Commission’s decision will mean a restructuring of the Antrix board. But Isro and Space Commission chairman K Radhakrishnan did not answer two key questions that have emerged from statements made by Devas over the past two days, which Isro officials have privately confirmed as accurate.
Isro officials have formally suggested that a five-fold rise in demand for S-band spectrum was the key reason behind the agency’s decision to review the Devas contract in December 2009. But a background note on the contract prepared by Isro itself states that the review was initiated following “complaints”.
The second question that Isro refused to answer is why its top officials — including Radhakrishnan — continued to engage with Devas till January 2011, even though the Space Commission decided in July 2010 to annul the contract.
Devas claimed that it had sought out Isro and government officials after reports suggested last July that the contract could be annulled, but was never informed of any risk to the project.