Parliament saw a heated debate on Wednesday between the government and the Opposition on alleged corruption in the purchase of AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters, with both sides mounting an attack against each other.
The Congress party accused the government of taking recourse to “insinuation and innuendo ” to “vilify the head of a political party” and attributed it to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) “visceral hatred”.
The ruling party hit back with defence minister Manohar Parrikar saying an “invisible hand” guided the action or inaction of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate probing the case of alleged kickbacks in the Rs 3,727-crore deal in favour of the UK-based AgustaWestland.
Here are top five points that Parrikar and members of Congress made during the course of the debate:
Defence minister’s arguments:
1) Parrikar rejected the Opposition’s demand for a Supreme Court-monitored probe as an inquiry is already underway. The ongoing probe into the allegations of bribery and corruption in the chopper deal will focus on those named in the Italian court judgement. He said the government will leave no stone unturned in bringing to justice those involved in the scam. The CBI has already covered a lot of ground in the investigations and is on a money trail to track down where the bribe money went.
2) It took nearly two years for the UPA to cancel the contract despite reports of unethical conduct by Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, surfacing in 2012. It did that as a response to an arbitration request by the supplier. The delivery of the first three aircraft could have been avoided. The then defence minister AK Antony approved the decision to put on hold all procurement cases with the accused group of companies only on May 12, 2014, towards the fag end of UPA government’s tenure. The NDA government finally issued the order on July 3, 2014, less than a month after it came to power.
3) The choppers were bought at inflated prices and no realistic basis for price negotiations was provided. At various stages from March 2005, despite specific directions to the contrary, service quality requirements were changed and processes influenced to make AgustaWestland the “only alternative.”
4) Field trials of the AgustaWestland helicopter were conducted in Italy. It was necessary for it to be held in Indian conditions. Also, since the helicopters offered by the company were in the development stage, the trials were conducted on a different chopper.
5) A litany of omissions and commissions at various stages of the decision-making process indicate malafide and corrupt actions are driven by a goal to favour a particular vendor.
1) The main Opposition party demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe in the chopper deal. It said strong action should be taken against the company which gave money and it should be immediately blacklisted for 10 years.
2) If the government has all evidence, it should take strong action against the company which gave money and against those who got the money instead of threatening and blackmailing the Congress. AgustaWestland should not be involved in any Make in India projects.
3) It was the then principal secretary in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee PMO which in 2003 took a decision to change the flying altitude of the helicopters from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres.
4) The government should act now since all legal hurdles in the AgustaWestland case is now over. Since the corruption charges in the chopper deal are now proved, the government should expedite the arbitration proceedings, contest the case successfully and get thousands of crore as compensation.
5) The BJP should not try to link certain initials like “CP”, “VP” and “AP” to the chopper deal and spread innuendos as in the Hawala case where “LKA” initial featured, the high court held that presence of initials constituted no evidence.