The BJP is using the AgustaWestland deal to bring the Congress to its knees in Parliament, but a related controversy may end up throwing its government in Rajasthan off gear.
Chief minister Vasundhara Raje has come under a cloud for buying a chopper from the firm for Rs 20 crore in 2005, a deal in which the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has reportedly discovered “irregularities and procedural lapses that caused a loss of at least Rs 1.14 crore” to the state exchequer.
The Congress has questioned Raje’s role in purchasing the twin-engine turbo shaft helicopter, meant for use by “VIPs, high dignitaries and senior officials”. The vehicle has been grounded since November 2011, when it reportedly developed a glitch while transporting former chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
The state government has been struggling to sell off the chopper since then, sources said, adding that two attempts to put the A109E power helicopter under the hammer – in July and September last year – failed as no buyers showed up.
“The government is working on how to sell it off,” said Kesri Singh, director of the state civil aviation department.
Government sources said the chopper was seen as jinxed ever since the mishap involving Gehlot occurred. Though the two pilots managed to land the chopper safely, a check-up revealed that the main rotor of the helicopter was damaged during the flight. Poor maintenance was cited as the reason for the potentially dangerous incident. “The present chief minister (Raje) never even considered travelling in the chopper, which is why it lies cooped up at the state hanger,” said a senior official on the condition of anonymity.
He said the A109E power helicopter has been turned on only twice since 2011, specifically for carrying out technical check-ups.
The other aircraft in the state’s fleet are a King Air B200 and a King Air C90A.
The chopper controversy, wherein AgustaWestland allegedly paid more than Rs 375 crore as bribe to secure a Rs 3,727-crore contract for supplying 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force, first came to light in February 2012. The matter assumed prominence in recent days after an Italian court reportedly observed that the UPA government had showed “substantial disregard” in arriving at the full truth behind the multi-crore scam.
Taking note of the allegations, India scrapped the deal with the firm last year.