Are we worse than terrorists: Ex-ISRO chief on ban order

Former ISRO chairman Nair defends Devas deal,says govt wrongly informed by current ISRO chief .

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore | Published: January 25, 2012 9:58:39 pm

THE unprecedented order of the Department of Space barring four former Indian Space Research Organization officials,including former chairman G Madhavan Nair,from taking up government assignments for their alleged impropriety in the Antrix-Devas deal,has prompted these officials to cry foul and the former chairman to call the order a “personal agenda’’ of his successor K Radhakrishnan.

Reacting to the order,first reported by The Indian Express today,Nair lashed out at the current ISRO chairman. Last year,in an interview to this newspaper at the height of the controversy over the deal,Nair had said he had no differences with his successor though their “management styles differed.’’

But today he minced few words. “This is the personal agenda of Radhakrishnan. He is not able to perform to the expectations of the organization and is using this to divert attention. Some of the people who are in Devas are his past bosses and he was almost removed from ISRO once,maybe there is some residue in his mind,’’ Nair said.

Nair,who has stoutly defended the Antrix Devas deal,involving the allocation of S-band spectrum to the private firm Devas in an agreement with ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix,claimed that the order was a “clear violation of human rights’’ since he had not been given an opportunity to defend himself.

“Right from the beginning,the whole issue has been mishandled. The government has been misinformed by the present management and that is why all this has come to this particular stage. When things go beyond all the limits,I have to state the truth,” Nair said. “Even the person who has done the terror attack in Mumbai…he is enjoying the freedom of going to three to four levels of appeal. Are we worse than terrorists?”

The former ISRO chairman said that he had received a set of questions from the Pratyush Sinha committee that went into the issue of fixing responsibility for the Antrix-Devas deal but was refused a personal audience to explain his position before the committee.

“If I were holding any position in the government such an action would not take place. I would first give a memo or a notice,ask them to explain and if the explanation is not satisfactory conduct an inquiry. One should be heard by the people who are sitting in the committee and at the end of that one can take a decision,’’ Nair said.

The B N Suresh committee,appointed by ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan himself,has reported that the Antrix Devas deal is needed for the country from a technological point of view,he said.

“That committee has come out with a clear recommendation. This is a very unique technology for a country like ours,we need it and this is the right way of doing it and we should pursue that agreement to the full completion,’’ Nair said.

The former ISRO chairman said the Prime Minister’s Office needed to have exercised more caution in handling the allegations against the Antrix-Devas deal rather than placing reliance on distorted statements of individuals. The actions of the government have now given Devas an upper hand in its legal processes against the government for the annulment of the deal,he said.

“I have a lot of respect for ISRO and the ISRO family. It is a great organization and I did not want the image of ISRO to be tarnished. So,I have kept quiet all these days,’’ he said.

ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan did not react to the accusations made by his predecessor. His office said the ISRO chairman would offer “no comments’’.

Former Antrix Corporation managing director K R Sridharamurthy who was the signatory on the ISRO side to the Devas deal — the order blacklists him too — said a lot of misconceptions about the deal had been projected leading to insinuations against officials. “I would not like to blame anybody. As far as I know I have tried to do a honest job throughout my career. I feel sad about the insinuations being made now. If there was something wrong the process should have been addressed,’’ he said.

According to the former Antrix chief,the Antrix-Devas deal was a business innovation that has not been rightly understood at various levels.

“Business decisions involve risks. In the environment we were working,we needed to do things differently for the growth of ISRO. If this is the kind of reward you get who will dare to take risks now. India is still not mature or technologically advanced for innovation,’’ he said.

Sridharamurthy said the present ISRO management could have handled things better by providing greater clarity on the issues surrounding the deal instead of moving to annul it.

The former Antrix chief said he had also not been given an audience before the order against him was issued though he answered a brief questionnaire sent by the Pradhyum Sinha committee. He said he had not received a copy of the order barring him from taking up government duties.

A Bhaskarnarayana,a former scientific secretary in ISRO and K N Shankara,a former director in ISRO’s satellite centre,who are also barred from government duties also said they had not been given opportunities to provide their versions to the committee.

“I have not been given any opportunity to reply,’’ said Shankara who headed a committee that originally cleared the technical aspects of the Devas deal.

Madhavan Nair and Shankara,who held positions as professors at ISRO since their retirement,have been issued letters terminating their tenure. Since his retirement in 2010,Sridharamurthy has been part of the Prime Minister’s advisory council on innovation headed by Sam Pitroda. He said today he had put in his papers on hearing about the order barring him from government duty about a week ago.

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