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Millennium Post

Blaming one for others’ crime

In the ongoing investigation of bribery and corruption in the VVIP helicopter deal, the Central Bureau of Investigation, or CBI, appears to have made up its mind that the then Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, was instrumental in swinging the deal in favour of AgustaWestland.

News reports attributed to CBI sources imply that technical requirements were tweaked by the then air chief to enable the Italian helicopter AW101 to emerge as the winner in the contested deal.

As was to be expected, the Indian media, especially electronic - went hoarse in the throat and wild in gestures - and continues to do so - to expose the erstwhile chief without bothering to look at the whole episode in a holistic and professional manner. Whether guilty or not, in the eyes of the nation, he is already damned.

There are two major aspects of the ‘deal’ which need to be probed thoroughly before arriving at any conclusion. One, whether the erstwhile chief could and/or did influence the laying down of the SQRs (Service Qualifying Requirements) to enable the selection of any particular helicopter. And, two, whether there was a case of illegal transaction of money favouring some middlemen and individuals who claimed to have the wherewithal to swing the deal in a particular direction.

Allegations have indeed emerged in Italy that Italian/ European businessmen raised bribe money and paid it to top officials of Finmeccanica, the company which owns the British AgustaWestland, and some Indian businessmen. A probe is on in Europe based on communication intercepts and accounting paperwork the middlemen had prepared for their own requirements.

Soon after the scandal broke out, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MOD) issued a Fact Sheet on February 14, 2013 on the chronology of the important procedural milestones of the deal. The MOD deserves credit for not hiding behind the façade of secrecy and putting the facts in public domain, but where it failed was to assure the people that its defence procurement systems are robust enough not to be influenced by any one individual irrespective of the rank or status he may wield.

In the midst of all the cacophonous accusations hitting the ceiling was just a lone voice of sanity, that of former defence and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, when he remarked:, ‘We should not make wild allegations against a former air chief. It is not in the interest of both the Air Force and the country. The probe is on. Let’s wait.’

A distinguished soldier and an able statesman, he understood well the destruction such media hype can cause to the very fabric of the armed forces.Nonetheless, due to the media trial, MOD referred the case to CBI, the country’s prime investigating agency. But, without overly commenting on the cumbersomeness of the defence procurement procedure, what stands out clearly is that no single individual can influence the outcome of a defence deal on his or her own.

India Strategic has had some access to the documents showing how the new SQRs were debated in a final meeting, held before the issuance of the revised RFP. It is clear that all the new parameters were agreed to unanimously - one by one - by the representatives of all the agencies mentioned earlier, and that while IAF was represented by top officers at this meeting, the air chief himself was not there. Simply put, the decision was collective, and unanimous. (IANS)
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