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Millennium Post

Kickback in wonder, or save defence deals

When it comes to defence deals and acquisitions, it seems we aren’t even aware of the tip of the iceberg. The latest in the string of scandals rocking the arms equipment sector is the ministry-ordered CBI inquiry into allegations of bribery into a Rs 10,000-crore deal for supply of aircraft engines to state-owned Hindustan Aeronatics Limited (HAL) by London-based Rolls Royce during the period 2007-11. There appears to be a wide-scale acceptance of the culture of kickbacks in facilitating shady deals, particularly in the defence sector. Hence, findings by HAL’s internal vigilance wing that establish bribes being paid to high-ranking officers in the public sector company and the discovery thereof in foreign shores, once again point towards a developing pattern within the defence sector – one of deepening and completely illegal role of middlemen in enabling the procurements. Given that Indian Defence Procurement System does not allow middlemen or advisors and consultants, one can offer the counterargument that corporate lobbying should be legalised since it’s such a prevalent practice worldwide. Yet it would be a logical fallacy to equate soliciting expert opinion with currying favours and pushing for substandard equipments to ensure global profit sharks in the defence sector make a killing. Hence, while on the one hand, we witness delay in defence procurements encumbered by severe red tape in the system, on the other, the equipments thus purchased bring more harm than good, taking precious lives down with their routine failures. Whether it’s a Bofors, Tatra or AgustaWestland, international arms suppliers have muscled their way into our domestic sector by bribing officials and leaders, with middlemen such as Ottavio Quattrochhi or Guido Hashcke playing nodal roles to facilitate deals worth hundreds of crores. In the process, they have compromised our national security, tarnished the image of our armed forces as well as steered global perception towards chronic governance failure in this country.

Whether it’s the case of fatal naval mishaps including sinking of INS Sindhurakshak last year and gutting of INS Sindhuratna just few days back, or the scandals rocking the armed forces which got divided along communal lines after the defence minister and former chief V K Singh locked horns over the latter’s age, Indian defence sector is in need of complete and thorough overhaul. What good is the spotless image of the defence minister A K Antony if he cannot preside over a clean sector, which is being bogged down by acquisition scams of all hues and colours? Whether it’s tweaking the flight height requirement of VVIP choppers in AgustaWestland, or Tatra truck scam and Navy war room leaks – none of these indiscretions were exposed in the Indian soil. In fact, if anything, the government has covertly colluded with the companies and officials and engaged in cover-up operations, until it was out in the public domain and could no longer be endured. Evidently, honest incompetence and acceptance of bribery as a standard practice have been the nemeses of Indian defence industry and ministry. Despite Antony’s ordering a CBI probe, the noose needs to be tightened at the suppliers’ end for any real impact.
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