New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who sought to clear the air on the allocation of S-Band spectrum scam,  on Thursday said the deal to allocate transponder frequency on two satellites to the Indian arm of a US firm never came to his office for approval.

He made this statement while intervening during Question Hour in Rajya Sabha when Opposition members sought to know who in the PMO was responsible for approving the deal between Devas Multimedia Pvt Ltd (the Indian arm of Forge Advisors of US) and Antrix Corp, the commercial arm of ISRO.

"There is no question of Prime Minister's Office being asked to approve the deal. It never came to that level," Singh said, adding that Antrix is a commercial arm of ISRO and in normal course its deal with Devas does not go to the government for approval.

Only the launch of satellite "did come to the Cabinet," he said. But the Devas-Antrix deal "was not mentioned in the Cabinet note." 

Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V Narayanasamy said Antrix Corp Ltd, set up by Department of Space in 1992, had signed an agreement with Devas in January 2005 for leasing part of the space segment capacity in S-band on two geostationary satellites.

The agreement details the terms and conditions under which part of the transponder capacity of these satellites were to be made available to Devas for 12 years.This was as per the Satellite Communications Policy Framework for India approved by Cabinet in June 1997 which authorised INSAT capacity to be leased to non-governmental parties.

Union Cabinet had in January 2000 approved the norms, guidelines and procedures for implementation of this policy, he said, adding "These provided for entering into bilateral agreements with other agencies for marketing this capacity."

He said in order to catalyse digital multimedia services in India for which ground segment technology was evolving then in a very few developed countries, Antrix signed a MoU with Forge Advisors of USA in July 2003.

Subsequently, Forge promoted an Indian company called Devas with whom the Antrix entered into the agreement in January 2005 for lease of S-band transponder capacity in two satellites.The Space Commission annulled the agreement when it was felt that S-Band was required for defence, paramilitary forces and societal purposes. Subsequently, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) too annulled the deal after the scam surfaced.

Narayanasamy said, "If any wrong (has been) done, Prime Minister will takeaction. When it came to knowledge of the government, immediate action was taken."

A high powered committee is looking into any irregularity in allocation of S-Band and action will be taken against the guilty.

As per the agreement, Devas was required to pay to Antrix upfront capacity reservation fee of USD 40 million and lease charges of USD 18 million per year for S-band transponders.Opposition members were not satisfied by the minister's response and continued to raise the issue of scarce spectrum being allocated to private party at a throw away price.

J&K situation has improved

Noting that Jammu and Kashmir had gone through a "difficult time" last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said the government was keeping its "fingers crossed" this summer while remaining vigilant. He asserted that no quarter should be given to secessionists.

Singh told the Lok Sabha that the report of the Rangarajan committee appointed by him to work out a plan for providing up to one lakh jobs to Kashmiri youth was "nearly ready" and once its implementation starts the "mindset" of Kashmiri people will change.

"Our approach to the problems of Jammu and Kashmir is that we will give no quarter to secessionist elements. We will do everything in our power to strengthen the hands of the state government to provide a fairer deal to the youth of Jammu and Kashmir, to provide avenues for gainful employment," he said, replying to a debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President's address.

"We have passed through a difficult time, particularly the last summer," Singh said, talking about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Government can’t control world food situation

Under attack for price rise for last several months, Manmohan Singh said that the government had "no control" on several developments like deteriorating world food situation, sharp rise in oil and commodities prices in the international market.

He, however, exuded confidence that the overall inflation will come down to seven per cent on the back of steps being taken by the government. "Food inflation has also been a cause
of concern. But recently, the situation has improved and I expect the situation to improve further."

"I will be the first one to admit that inflation in the last 18 months has become a problem. There were reasons beyond our control. First of all, there was the drought of 2009, there were natural calamities which affected the production of important products such as vegetables and onions," he said.

The food inflation had touched a high of over 18 per cent in December last year before moderating to 11.49 per cent for the week ended February 12.

Singh said the government was in control of certain commodities and can handle the prices of these commodities.

This delicate balance has to be preserved between control of inflation and protection of employment. "I think that it sometimes gives a feeling to ordinary people that we are not worried about inflation," Singh said.

"That is not the case. Our government stands committed to control inflation and I am hopeful that at the end of this fiscal year, the rate of inflation, at least the headline inflation will come down to about seven per cent."

He pointed out that world food situation has deteriorated and world prices of commodities like oil seeds and vegetable oil have risen sharply and added that on all these things India has no control.

Amid all these problems, he said that in the long run, in a country like India where agriculture prices are "kingpin of the price structure", the only way "we can control inflation is through increased production and increased productivity of agriculture."

Agency Inputs