Millennium Post

End the culture of kickbacks

With the CAG report on the VVIP chopper scam now made public and presented in Parliament on Tuesday, it is clear that the government tweaked norms and broke its own procurement rules to award Rs 3,700 crore contract for 12 helicopters to the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland. This report on what is known as the ‘Choppergate’, more or less, appears to be one of the last proverbial nails on the coffin that is UPA’s future prospects, given the national elections that are due in May next year.

The former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai had braved government opposition and prepared the report amidst several accusations leveled at him, particularly in the aftermath of the earlier 2G spectrum scam, and it is now evident that the government, and even the defence ministry, did not comply with rules from the outset of the procurement procedure from the tender process to the conclusion of the contract with AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of the Italian state-owned Finmeccanica, was compromised at various levels.

As per the report, the Indian negotiators had upped the base price for the purchase of the VVIP helicopters, which were meant to be used by the top brass of the government, including the Prime Minister, stating that there was no realistic reason for hiking the buying price, thus pointing towards manipulation of the transaction aimed at obtaining massive amounts of kickbacks. The 12 AW101 choppers were, moreover, not even tested, and other copters underwent trials not in India but abroad, with the permission of a former Air Force chief, further attesting to the government complicity in the murky defence deal.     

Bolstering CBI investigations into allegations of receiving bribes against the former Air Chief SP Tyagi, the CAG report further confirms that the AgustaWestland deal was heavily influenced by middlemen, the three cousins of SP Tyagi, in favour of the Anglo-Italian organisation.  It’s appalling to what extend the government bended the rules of procurement, from not testing the AW101 helicopters and carrying out tests on Merlim MK-3A and Civ-01, making a mockery of the taxpayers money that are being pumped into the open-mouthed drain that is VVIP security. The auditor’s findings that the cabin height was increased and the altitude at which the choppers were supposed to fly decreased from 6,000 to 4,500 metres simply to twist the deal in favour of the company by clearing its eligibility are clear evidence that the government is neck-deep in the execution of this nefarious business deal in the name of protecting its national leaders.

It is therefore obvious that despite the directions of the Prime Minister’s Office to make staff qualitative requirements broad-based to increase competition, the requirements were actually made more restrictive, thus considerably narrowing the scope of other competitors to bid for supplying the high-end VVIP copters. Moreover, the low utilisation levels (29 per cent) over a period of 11 years (1999-2010) of the existing fleet of eight helicopters by VVIP makes the AgustaWestland dead extravagant and completely unnecessary, an apprehension even expressed by the Prime Minister occasionally. The CAG report, therefore, seals the fate of those involved in the Choppergate, and the perpetrators must receive the strictest of punishments to serve as a deterrent in future. Such brazen violations of norms and instances of corporate-political nexus for personal profiteering must be prevented at all cost.  

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