How many of us have heard about the ISRO’s Antrix and their business dealing with Devas? This dealing may have happened 17 years ago, but it is just now that, many of us are realizing how much of a pickle we are in.
As we all know ISRO is our Indian Space Research Organization initiated in 1969. It is an entity of the Central government. Antrix is the commercial arm of ISRO, created in 1992, that handles all
marketing and infrastructure management on behalf of ISRO.
So, who are the Devas?
Devas (Digitally Enhanced Video and Audio Services) Multimedia Private Limited, is a company based in Bangalore, that started up in 2004. Devas was founded by Dr. M. G. Chandrasekhar, who had worked on India’s first experimental communication Satellite project APPLE, as a former ISRO Executive. Prior to ISRO, he was a Managing Director at WorldSpace, a Satellite Radio company, that had filed bankruptcy. His former colleague from WorldSpace, Ramachandran Viswanathan, co-founded Devas.
In 2005, when PM Manmohan Singh was in reign, Antrix and Devas made Rs.167 Crore worth a deal. Devas were to lease India’s two S-Band satellites for 12 years for their multimedia services to
be provided in remote areas of India. Bear in mind the S-Band spectrum is usually reserved for security forces and government entities. Another point to note, even before the satellites were
launched or approved, the Congress-led government gave away the usage rights to a private entity.
How is the deal between Antrix/Devas linked to the 2G Scam? Instead of following a fair pricing and timing of sales, the methodologies used for the sales of this 2G spectrum in 2007, revealed that the beneficiaries re-sold their spectrum in 2008 for higher gains. And the Supreme Court cancelled all the spectrum licenses allocated in 2007.
Immediately following this episode, the UPA hastily cancelled the deal between Antrix and Devas, citing CAG reports which pointed out irregularities in operating procedures. Till date, we have no idea if there really was a scam or was the government being cautious of being caught in yet another humiliation.
The Devas did not take this matter lightly, they opened up a case filing with the lower courts in India and lost. Devas have major foreign investors in Germany, Mauritius, Canada, France, and US. These foreign investors were determined to get their share back and make India pay for their retreat.
In June 2011, the German investors of Devas commenced arbitration proceedings under the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) against the Indian Government. In 2015, the Devas won the case at ICC and were compensated $562 million. The unpaid ICC compensation has now grown to a sum of $1.2 billion as of 2020, the $562 million from 2015 + interest.
The shareholders of Devas also hired an advisor named Jay Newman to help them fight against the Indian Government. Not only were they scoping to get as much funds as payback from the IndianGovernment, but they have also been propagating that India is not a safe place for foreign investors.
Devas realizing their stronger ground outside of India, they have been judicially attacking the Indian Government ever since from US, Canada, and France. Quebec, Canada has given $30 million of compensation to Devas using the Air India assets. Since Air India is financially tied to the Indian government. Paris, France has compensated $1.3 million to Devas by selling the apartments of the local Indian diplomats. These Indian diplomats are part of Indian Deputy Chief of Missions who live outside India but their expenses are funded by the Indian government.
What has the Indian government been doing all these years? Before 2015, it appears the government was playing the game of ignorance or negligence. But when Air India became the target
for asset seizure, the depth of the problem is resurfacing. The NCLT, National Company Law Tribunal, which is a quasi-judiciary authority to deal with corporate disputes, has ordered the liquidation of Devas in 2021. None of Devas appeals have been gaining grounds in India and the Supreme Court has aligned with NCLT for the winding up of Devas.
Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, has made strong statements on this dealing since 2011. She has voiced that the Congress have misused their power and allowed the sale of government resources. This is people’s tax money that is at stake, and it took us 17 odd years to realize the complexities of fraud embedded in this dealing along with the comprise on national security.
Congress government may be at fault in signing such a deal with Devas. But Devas are not completely innocent, at the time of agreement and maybe even today, the promised components of
Devas such as Devas Device or Devas Technology do not exist.
It is of some comfort that the current government is making an effort to reach a resolution for this decade old saga. With all the required
ground work, is India ready to also challenge these proceedings internationally as well? We’ll have to wait and watch.
– Nirmala Venkatraman (PSJ) –