Former defence minister and Congress MP AK Antony on Wednesday sought to turn the tables on the Centre in the VVIP chopper scam, stressing that it was the NDA government that tweaked key requirements that eventually helped AgustaWestland bag the contract.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, however, blamed the UPA regime for changing requirements to restrict competition and facilitate the emergence of the UK-based firm as a single vendor. Parrikar said the UPA relentlessly pushed the deal, accusing the regime of “a litany of omissions and commissions” that indicated mala fide to favour a particular vendor.
Taking part in a short discussion on allegations of bribery and corruption in the chopper deal in Rajya Sabha, Antony said the decision to reduce the altitude ceiling of the choppers from 6,000m to 4,500m and having a cabin height of at least 1.8m was taken at the behest of the PMO in November 2003.
“Major decisions were taken by your government in 2003. Don’t accuse us… Don’t politicise the issue, you will repent,” a combative Antony said. He asked the Centre to blacklist the firm for 10 years, conduct arbitration proceedings successfully to obtain compensation running into thousands of crores and take the strictest action against bribe takers as corruption stood proven.
However, in his reply, Parrikar said the UPA regime began amending operational requirements March 2005 onwards to make sure that AgustaWestland was the only alternative. He said several deviations were approved by the UPA and the standard of trials was diluted to help the firm win the over-priced contract. He said the probes by the CBI and ED into the controversial deal were hampered by some invisible hand, adding that investigations would now focus on roles of those named in the judgment of the Italian court.
Parrikar said the CBI had registered a case in March 2013, but it did not bother to forward a copy of the FIR to ED for nine months and the latter failed to act on the FIR till July 2014. He said the defence ministry is initiating the process of blacklisting the firm.
Parrikar lashed out at the then government for allowing the chopper trials to be conducted abroad in 2008, arguing that the platform should have been tested in Indian conditions. He also said trials were conducted on a representative chopper and not on AW-101 for which the 2010 deal was signed.
The minister said the three choppers received by the IAF had their own problems. He said the IAF found that the choppers were unable to operate out of places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam due to effective payload being nil at that altitude. He said he obtained the information from an IAF file that was somehow saved after several documents were destroyed in a fire.
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