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Congress, BJP were on same page to reduce flight ceiling of VVIP copters

Even though the Eurocopter’s EC-225 choppers were chosen on the basis of the previous altitude of 6,000 metres, they had virtually emerged as the ‘single vendor’ after the now embattled AgustaWestland had fallen out of the race as its AW 101 could not climb up to 6,000 metre.

In a meeting held on 19 November, 2003, with the then principal secretary to the prime minister, who is no more, Brijesh Mishra, had stated that the contract needed to be re-issued, with a reduced operational altitude of 4,500 metre.

Mishra had apparently asked the Indian Air Force why the 6 km altitude was made the qualifying height for choppers. While a source close to the accused retired air chief marshal, Shashi Tyagi, said that the real rationale for that height was to carry the then defence minister, George Fernandes, to Siachen glacier that could not have been given as the reason as potentially no other member of the political executive was expected to go to such heights.

This was followed by another meeting held on 1 March, 2005, the then National Security Adviser, MK Narayanan held a meeting of the defence secretary, secretary (security), director Intelligence Bureau, director Special Protection Group and the deputy chief air staff.

Narayanan made the same point as that of Mishra, and further added that since the new choppers should meet the standards of the Mi-8 Russian helicopters and a fresh request for proposal issued so that there is no ‘single vendor’ situation arises.

This was followed by a meeting on 7 March, 2005, convened at the Vayu Bhavan headquarters of the IAF by the deputy chief of air staff, Air Marshal JS Gujral involving the joint secretary and acquisition manager, Shashi Kant Sharma (current Comptroller and Auditor General), director (SPG) and few other officials of the IAF. This group ratifies the direction of the 1 March, 2005 meeting.

As the air operations are the domain of the vice chief of air staff, who approves it and it eventually lands on the table of then air chief, Shashi Tyagi, who also agrees with the various decision, and approves it.

Eventually, the file goes back to the ministry for its final approval when the he goes through the Shashi Kant Sharma, then joint secretary (air); then to director general (acquisitions) and eventually to the defence minister.

AgustaWestland wins the contract though Sikorsky too was in line. The order was placed and the contract signed in 2010 by when Shashi Kant Sharma had become the DG (Acquisitions). The defence secretary was Pradeep Kumar, the current Central Vigilance Commissioner.

The source close to Tyagi said that the inquiry and indictment in Italy against Giuseppe Orsi, the head of Finmeccanica who had, according to the investigators, had paid 10 million Euros to then ruling party of the country, Silvio Berlusconi. During the search, seizure and investigation of the case, the Indian story was unveiled.

Though the accused middleman of the Indian deal, Guido Haschke has now denied any bribery to Indian decisionmakers, the fact remains that the investigators found his ‘budget sheet.’

About the charge made last week, that Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of the UPA and president of the Congress Party was sought to be influenced, the source close to Tyagi says that she never travelled by the IAF choppers alone, because she is now allowed that by the rules of the government. So she travels in IAF transport always accompanied by the defence minister or the prime minister.

Hence, the point made in last week’s revelation, the source said - rumoured to be engineered by the American company, Sikorsky - had held that a source told the Italian perpetrator Christian Michel, that she would no longer fly by the Russian Mi-8s appears to be incorrect.

Still, the source said that former air chief marshal, Tyagi feels let down and considers himself to have been wronged against when two governments and two defence ministers had signed off on the deal.

Authenticity of VVIP chopper deal notes ‘not proved’: Antony

New Delhi:
Defence minister AK Antony on Wednesday said certain notes have come to light suggesting that middlemen in the VVIP chopper deal were trying to target certain Indian leaders but their authenticity is ‘not proved’.

He was making a suo motu statement in Rajya Sabha on the AgustaWestland chopper scam after a note received from Italy suggested that one of the middlemen Christian Michel had written to an AgustaWestland official in India to ask a ‘High Commissioner’ to target UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi and her close advisers Ahmed Patel, Pranab Mukherjee, Veerappa Moily.
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