The corrupt of the world have much to learn from us, as it is now universally acknowledged that our national capacity to defraud the public exchequer is among the highest in the world. One of the greatest skills that India has built up over the past few decades is in designing of scams, executing them, and then covering them up, not only from the law, but also from people’s memories. The most universally recognized Make in India product is the Indian Scam, truly state of the art.
Of course, corruption happens in almost all countries and societies in the world. But the sheer magnitude, scale and sustainability of India’s corruption is exceptional - the brilliance with which scams are conceptualized, the seamless operations of the political, official and business machinery in cahoots with the quasi criminal sections of the citizenry, all nicely fitting into the loopholes of the law.
After the embezzlement has been successfully executed, we show great expertise in hushing it up, destroying evidence, obfuscating and delaying, protecting the corrupt, nailing hapless scapegoats, all under direct political supervision and bureaucratic connivance/subjugation. Investigations are scuttled or derailed and the CBI becomes the PBI-the Political Bureau of Investigation. Take a look at the last decade – scandals aplenty, punishment nil.
Well, a scam which started in 2003 and mysteriously persists till today is the Antrix Devas scam. It neither gets exposed nor does it close. And till today the general public has not been informed the whole truth about it. Fortunately it is in news again.
A news item appeared on February 28, that the Delhi High Court admitted Devas Multimedia's plea to attach the bank accounts of ISRO's Antrix Corporation to secure damages worth USD 672 million (Rs 4,435.20 crore). These had been awarded to Devas in 2015 by a Tribunal of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris for “damages and pre-award interest.” The Delhi High Court has directed Antrix to file before March 21, an affidavit by an authorized officer, along with its audited balance sheets and profit and loss accounts for the past three years, to facilitate the hearing in the matter.
In another Arbitration, in July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Tribunal at the Hague held the Indian Government liable to pay compensation to the tune of 40 per cent of investment made by foreign investors of Devas Multimedia.
There is yet another arbitration in respect of Deutsche Telekom’s investment of USD 100 million for which judgment is reserved and the award is expected to be much bigger than the last. So altogether the Indian tax payer can look forward to being mowed down under at least Rs 10,000 crores by the time Antrix has finished losing every Arbitration case.
Now, how did this happen? This happened because the fraudulent Antrix Devas Contract was terminated most fraudulently by the then ISRO Chairman in 2011 - the highest act of corruption and betrayal of the people of India.
Devas had claimed in the Antrix-Devas Contract of January 2005 (Clause 12 b) that it had the ability to design Digital Multimedia Receivers (“DMR”) and Commercial Information Devices (“CID”) and had the ownership and the right to use the intellectual property, viz. SDMB technology, involved in their designs. Allegations started mounting around 2009, regarding the authenticity of the IPR claimed by Devas, and a spate of enquiries followed. The then Financial Advisor, G Balachandran had repeatedly informed ISRO Chairman Radhakrishnan that the Satellite Digital Multimedia Broadcasting, (SDMB) technology claimed by Devas in the Contract is not a confidential and proprietary technology held by it. The note recommended that these facts should be intimated to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and the contract should be cancelled on grounds that Devas had given false information when signing the contract about its ownership and rights over the technology and intellectual property, and acted fraudulently. The Financial Advisor also intimated Radhakrishnan that if the contract was terminated on these grounds, the chances of Devas winning any case of Arbitration are remote.
Why did Radhakrishnan disregard this shocking revelation and the sound financial advice given by his Financial Advisor? Why did he not recommend to the CCS to cancel the Contract on grounds provided to him in writing by his officers that the Contract was induced by fraud and misrepresentation and was null and void? Had he done so, Devas would not have succeeded in winning every arbitration, and the Indian tax payer would have been spared the unpardonable financial burden that has started descending upon him.
And thereafter, Antrix and ISRO did everything possible to ensure that they lose the arbitration cases.
I request my readers to go through what I wrote about this case in my blog in October 2015 by clicking here; and in my article in Sunday Guardian in 2014, which my readers can see by clicking here.
I had requested the Prime Minister ‘to appoint a panel of eminent legal experts to put the Department of Space on the right legal track and safeguard national interest and the taxpayers' money. Legal amends can yet be made to save the nation and the taxpayer from being robbed of Rs 18,000 crore by this criminal conspiracy.”
This was the new Narendra Modi Government who came to power on a strong anti corruption agenda, and it was legally possible to have done so. But they chose to do nothing about it, and the people of India, the plaintiffs, were converted into defendants.
Clearly, in retaliation to Devas for persisting in its efforts for execution of the Award and securing a favourable order from the Delhi High Court on February 28, on the same day the Enforcement Directorate, (after sleeping for several years), issued a Press Release that stated that they had ‘provisionally’ attached about Rs 80 crores from Devas.
This was a bit of a hoax because this amount included Rs 68 crores which had been paid by Devas to Antrix as Upfront Capacity Reservation Fee, which Antrix had returned to Devas after annulling the Contract, and Devas had not accepted.
But what was a bit unusual about the ED Press Release was that its main emphasis was that “The agreement entered into by Devas with the ISRO/ACL is illegal as Devas did not have any technology/ownership of intellectual property rights to deliver the Multimedia Services and the main purpose of entering the agreement with ISRO/ACL was to raise foreign investments on the strength of the Agreement with ISRO and thereafter siphon off the investment raised, out of India in the guise of investment in subsidiary Company, Business Support Services and Legal Fee.”
This is something that Chairman ISRO should have said in 2011 and declared the Contract null and void. This is what Prime Minister Modi should have said in 2014, and rectified the mischief of the previous Government. This what the media should be asking even today. Sadly, a blanket of silence seems to have shrouded them.
If this is meant to be a message to arm twist Devas, it is too late. This ground should have been made by Chairman ISRO in 2011 to declare the contract null and void, and pleaded thereafter during the Arbitration proceedings.
The Antrix Devas scam is unique, one of its kind, a classic case of smooth inheritance of a scam sprawling three different Governments from 2003 to 2017. Its history begins in 2003, when dialogue between ISRO/Antrix starts with M/s Forge Advisors regarding opportunities in the global satellite market. It smoothly transitioned to the UPA Government and the Contract was signed in January 2005. Incidentally, Chairman M/s Forge Advisors, ShriRamanathanVishwanathan later in December 2004 became Chairman of the quickly cooked up Devas India, the Indian entity with which the Antrix Board approved the infamous Contract a few weeks later on December 24, 2004. And despite the unsavoury disclosures, it was once again inherited with complete ownership by the Modi Government in 2014. The present Government did nothing to rectify the corrupt decision of its predecessors. Instead, they continued with the same premises, which were sure to spell defeat for Antrix in the several Arbitrations. Not at all like the Agusta Westland or the National Herald scams in which the present Government is taking some interest from time to time. Clearly, this scam has extremely powerful backers, cutting across party lines.
Or was the termination error intentional? The nation has not forgotten the Bhopal tragedy, and how the compensation money for the dead and afflicted became the richest contribution to the private coffers of several politicians and their cronies.
One last observation. Is it a coincidence that the last two ISRO Chairmen rushed to the RSS after they retired? Any guesses why?
Sadly, ISRO and Antrix are in disarray, and the Prime Minister seems not in control. He owes it to the nation to tell them the true facts.
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2018.
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