India plans to use the Supreme Court order in Antrix-Devas case to defend Air India's assets

India plans to use the Supreme Court order in Antrix-Devas case to defend Air India's assets
India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressing a press conference on Jan 18. PIB
India risked the loss of precious assets of the national carrier Air India, and more claims of damages from foreign investors who had put money in a Bengaluru-based startup Devas.

The investors’ claim was that the government had wrongfully cancelled a satellite deal between Devas and Antrix, Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) commercial arm. This was upheld by two international tribunals in 2017 and 2019.

However, now, a verdict from the Supreme Court of India, which has held the Antrix-Devas deal to be a fraudulent one. The Indian government hopes to use this order to battle these claims for damages and to protect the foreign assets of Air India ahead of its sale to the Tata Group.

"The shareholders knew of the fraudulent activities in the deal between Antrix and Devas," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said. “You bring in ₹579 crore, take away ₹488 crore and still make tons and tons of rupees by going to the court and filing cases. That’s the fraud being perpetrated… No country that respects the rule of law will ignore these facts,” she added.

The controversy began with a ₹1,400 crore satellite deal in 2005, between Antrix and Devas Multimedia, which was then cancelled in 2011 after charges of kickbacks.


A legal battle followed, and lasted a decade, until the Supreme Court allowed the winding up of Devas on Monday (January 17). Meanwhile, three investors in Devas have demanded the $111 million compensation (awarded by an international tribunal) from India for cancelling the deal.

The investors got a Canadian court order allowing the seizure of half Air India's assets in the country before India’s national airline was sold to the Tata Group. If these claims were to derail a crucial, and a long-awaited move, to privatise the airline, it would have been a big setback for the government. A similar appeal has been made in a US Federal Court as well.

Sitharaman said that the government would hold discussions between departments before deciding the next step in this battle against Devas’ investors.

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