Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Antrix did not ignore norms

Did anyone read the story today with the above title? was stuck into the inside pages of the paper! The story shows that Antrix (which is the commercial arm of ISRO) had not violated any norms when it signed the contract with Devas for S band spectrum. A few weeks back, this issue had been presented by the CAG (and given huge publicity by media) as a scam of the size of Rs 2 lac crores. It was then alleged that the S band spectrum had been hawked off cheaply to Devas. Obviously, there were suggestions (at least one channel (you know which one!) presented it almost as a proven case) that officers of ISRO had taken bribes. The real juice of course was that the politicians – possibly even the PM – were involved in the scam. The BJP couldn’t believe its luck and jumped on to the bandwagon. Everyone had a field day!

This story shows how vitiated the atmosphere in India has become nowadays. It’s enough to make allegations without proving anything. If the word “spectrum” can be brought in, it enjoys an even better chance of being turned into a scam. In a world of falling TRPs (with cricket taking away all eyeballs!), the TV news channels are keen to grab any story that they could sell to their viewers. The truth hardly matters. The crime is established before the courts even hear the matter. Media is the ultimate courtroom.....TV anchors the ultimate judges. In a fast moving country, they move ahead from case to case.....pronouncing  judgments with gay abandon; in the process further vitiating the atmosphere.....all in the name of democracy and free press. Someone needs to take on the media and show it its rightful place.

Unfortunately, the government seems to be succumbing to the pressure exerted by media. In this particular case, the government was at pains to show that it had not approved the Antrix-Devas dea. Without ascertaining anything, it showed alacrity in terminating the deal. By doing so, it was trying to show that its hands were clean, but in reality it just showed how nervous it was about governing the country. The government does not realize that this is the real intention of the opposition (the media is just a pawn in the game; a buffoon who assumes too much importance) derail a functioning government so that in the next elections, it could not claim any major success.

It appears now that Antrix followed all the procedures laid down in 2000. There was no hanky panky. After the scam had broken out, the Chairman of ISRO when the deal was signed, Dr. G Madhavan Nair had given an interview to TOI explaining why the S band was not worth what the 3G band was worth. That S band was only for satellite-to-ground coverage and not for terrestrial coverage. That Devas would only be able to use this band for communication in a limited manner. That if it wanted to provide mobile communications, it would have to buy 2G or 3G spectrum which it would have to pay for in any case. That S band was still an experimental technology in 2005 and hardly anyone apart from Devas wanted it. But who cared for a senior scientist’s views in the world of mean politics and desperate media? Even TOI preferred to put out this interview deep inside in its paper. The TV news channels simply preferred to ignore it. Dr. Madhavan Nair was a broken man. Many decades of selfless service had been brought to nought by an irresponsible media and an ungrateful nation.

That brings me to the irresponsible conduct of CAG. In the 2G scam, they had no business to comment on government policy. Making policy is the job of the elected MPs. If the government decided to go for cheap spectrum (by 3G standards), that was their decision. The opposite could debate it in Parliament. The people could vote for or against the policy. The CAG should have only pointed out errors in procedure......which (it appears now) Raja obviously committed. But instead (and I suspect because of personal political biases and ambitions of their senior officials) they chose to politicize the issue by claiming a loss of Rs 1.25-1.75 lac crores. In the S band issue also, it’s the same story again. CAG presented it as a scam of the order of Rs 2 lac crores. It’s amazing....just because the CAG is an independent body, it can get away with making any claim? No one can question it? This just proves that anyone in India who has power.....even independent authorities like the CAG.....exercises it. The CAG is just another power broker.

One other story has been irking me a lot recently. That of Hasan Ali’s $10 billion tax arrears. Now I have no immediate point of view on this. He’s clearly a goon (he had attacked him neighbor with acid when he was young.....and the poor neighbor had to undergo 30 surgeries to save himself). He’s also a fraudster, a hawala operator, maybe even a drug dealer. But can someone in media please bother to unravel how he made his money? If he was a hawala operator, he would only be a channel of passage.....making only a small commission (maybe 1% or less). Is it our point that the 1% amounts to $ 8 billion (meaning he did hawala transactions worth $800 billion!). If he was a drug dealer, again he wouldn’t be able to amass so much wealth. I am sure he is involved in some messy affairs.....but I get the impression that he is not such a big guy as he is being made out to be. Apparently the Swiss bank is claiming that the account does not even exist! Can media do some real journalistic research and help us understand the issues better (wihout any masala being added please)? And if they cannot do that, can they just stick to their job of reporting the facts as they come out?

There was another story in yesterday’s paper about how the government has gone into a state of inaction. Babus dont want to take decisions. Who would? Who is responsible for this? More importantly, who is going to lift the country out of this? If the BJP succeeds in ousting the Congress in the next elections, is this the kind of country they want to run? They must remember that the same media will run after pursuit of TRPs!

The real truth is again what I have stated in earlier posts. There is need for a much more stringent self-disciplinary regime in media. Media owners must decide on a code of conduct. Else instead of being called media barons, they will soon be called media dons! Freedom of speech cannot be misused. It’s the greatest disservice that media can do to a country.


  1. Prashant, you have hit the nail on the head. first of all the people of India have to call the media to account, refuse to listen to those stupid tirades on TV or trash newspapers in which all the journos do is sit at their tables or insomeone else's office and create some convenient story to splash on the front page, without ever checking back on the facts presented to them. ditto their editors all the way up the chain to newspaper/channel owners who are looking for sweet deals.
    then the BJP which is a lost cow looking for issues to make noise about, needs ot be serious about being a national opposition, in line for taking over the goenrment. horror of horrors if the present BJP is left to govern India. how much India would be left?
    and the ruling party has to start ruling and stop genuflecting before its silly allies, the money raking agriculture lobby which makes middleclass ktichens tremble, those inside traders and SEBI goons who are raking in all the dough and all other small and big time goons who are in the news without deserving to be there at all. 2G, 3G whatever, there is a time, a place and a reason for everything which should be rationally put in the public space without BJP frothing inthe mouth about it. or are we looking at mid term polls again?

  2. Earlier only the film industry had the privilege of being larger than life and to prove that the films were made to make the same being understood but thanks to today's world of TRP's see i use caps for the same we seem to have become media centric and frenzy. Sometime back i received a chain mail sent by Dr. Abdul Kalam as to how a progressive and positive media should function hope that is put into practice. In the effort to deliver the breaking news the real news is very often missed out.