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CBI to look into NDA meeting in 2003 for VVIP helicopters

CBI to look into NDA meeting in 2003 for VVIP helicopters
After recording statements of three governors in connection with the alleged bungling in purchase of VVIP helicopters, the focus of CBI’s probe into the Rs 3,600 crore deal has shifted to meetings held in this connection in 2003 when the previous NDA regime was in power and it may go through the records of meetings held in November that year.

Official sources said the agency would be probing every aspect of the case to corroborate the statements made by former governors of West Bengal and Goa – M K Narayanan and BV Wanchoo respectively – and governor of Andhra Pradesh E S L Narsimhan, who claimed that a decision to decrease the flying altitude was taken in principle in 2003.

The sources did not rule out the possibility of recoding statement of CBI’s own special director Anil Kumar Sinha, a 1979 batch IPS officer of Bihar cadre, as he was the then Inspector General in the elite Special Protection Group, a force which guards the prime minister of the country.
After completing the formalities of examining Narayanan, Narsimhan and Wanchoo, the CBI decided to see whether any such decision was taken in principle during the 2003 meetings.

During extensive recording of statement, Wanchoo, who resigned as Goa governor on 4 July, informed the CBI about a meeting held by top officials of the Prime Minister’s Office in 2003 in which it was decided in principle for having a ‘realistic operational requirement’ after consulting elite SPG, the sources said here.

CBI will also approach the Air Headquarters and the then Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal Srinivasapuram Krishnaswamy, on a letter from the then PMO asking for taking a realistic approach and ensure competition in purchasing helicopters for flying the VVIPs including the President and Prime Minister of the country.

The helicopters form a part of VVIP squardon maintained by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Sixty three-year-old Wanchoo, who was chief of SPG from 2004 onwards, put in his papers after he received a call from Union Home Secreatary Anil Goswami conveying Government’s wish that he submit his resignation. Narayanan, 80, who was the National Security Advisor till 2010, demitted his office on 30 June.

All the three governors were part of March one, 2005 meeting in which a decision was taken to reduce ‘service ceiling’ (the altitude at which a helicopter can fly) from the 6,000 meters to 4,500 meters and all of them told the CBI that the meeting reiterated in principle decision taken in the 2003 meeting which had been taken keeping in mind to encourage competition as well as change the rules framed for purchasing VVIP chopper in 1970s, the sources said.

CBI registered a case against former IAF Chief S P Tyagi along with 13 others including his cousins and European middlemen in the case. The allegation against the former Air Chief was that he had reduced flying ceiling of the helicopter so that AgustaWestland company was included in the bids. Tyagi has refuted the allegation against him. However, this decision was taken in consultation with the officials of SPG and the Prime Minister’s Office including Narayanan and Wanchoo.
The reduction of the service ceiling-- maximum height at which a helicopter can perform normally--allowed the firm to get into the fray as, otherwise, its helicopters were not even qualified for submission of bids.

CBI claims the parameters regarding the height at which the helicopter can fly as well as the flight evaluation were changed in a manner that enabled AgustaWestland to clinch the deal vis-a-vis its competitor Sikorsky.

The agency has put the investigation in this case on a fast-track and questioned several bureaucrats including former Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi and Comptroller and Auditor General Shashikant Sharma who was the then Defence Secretary.

In April this year, former Secretary (Security) Sudhir Kumar, former Inspector General, SPG, N Ramachandran, who retired as DGP Meghalaya, and former Special Secretary (Acquisition) in the Defence Ministry H C Gupta were examined by the agency as part of its probe.

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