The revelation that the Army took the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to purchase the Krasnopol shells worth Rs 150 crore even before the ammunition trials were completed has turned the focus on the role of senior Army officers in the affair.
These officers include the then Army chief, the director general military operations, director general artillery and GOC-in-C Northern Command.
Documents, which formed part of an Army Court of Inquiry, showed the CCS was not told even about the results of the ammunition trials. The documents are annexures to the inquiry held into revelations made by Tehelka in March 2001. They also formed part of the legal proceedings of court martials held by the Army against certain Army officers.
Then Additional Director General Weapons and Equipment, Maj Gen PSK Choudhary and Deputy Director General Weapons and Equipment, Brig PK Mahajan, had signed the documents in January 2001.
Gen VP Malik was Army Chief during the Kargil conflict while Lt Gen (later Gen) NC Vij was Director General Military Operations and Lt Gen HM Khanna, the GOC-in-C Northern Command.
The Army had sought the CCS’s approval to acquire the shells in July 1999 and a contract was finalised with the vendor in August 1999.
Significantly, till August 1999 only two trials of Krasnopol had been done at Pokhran and Kargil respectively. The other two trials were in October and November 1999 after the conflict.
Maj Gen Choudhary said the results were analysed in consultation with Headquarters Northern Command and discussed at the level of Chief of Army Staff, Gen VP Malik, before requesting Defence Ministry to make the conditional contract effective. Efforts were made to get Gen Malik’s comments but he was said to be away on vacation.
The CBI is investigating the Krasnopol deal along with the Barak, Denel and armoured recovery vehicle deals made when George Fernandes was Defence Minister.
The Army had said 1,000 Krasnopol projectiles and ten laser designators-cum-range finders had been procured "based on requirements projected by Directorate General of Artillery and final recommendations of the trial team."
A special audit report on defence purchases during the Kargil conflict said the Defence Ministry had hurriedly cleared the contract "at the instance of Army Headquarters."
The Army HQs reply to the audit objections concedes that the CCS approval had been "obtained prior to trial evaluation in the mountains, every aspect that became evident only after trials could not be brought to the notice of CCS".
The audit report further states that notwithstanding the deficiencies disclosed by the trials "the contract was finalised under the garb of ongoing operations at Kargil even though the operation was over by then".
Maj Gen PSK Choudhary, who was subsequently ensnared in the Tehelka tapes’ controversy in March 2001, justified taking the CCS approval before trials.
He said it had been done "considering the heavy expenditure to be met by the vendor only to meet our specific requirements and his insistence for the contract."