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Age Debate: Rotor wash

Published : May 5, 2016, 12:30 am IST
Updated : May 5, 2016, 12:30 am IST

The Congress has been out of power for almost two years, but their pot of misdeeds is so full that the scams are still spilling out, giving the Congress high command their “chickens have come home to

Vijender Gupta
 Vijender Gupta

The Congress has been out of power for almost two years, but their pot of misdeeds is so full that the scams are still spilling out, giving the Congress high command their “chickens have come home to roost” moment and their minions, sleepless nights. The latest one is the critical judgment by the Italian Court of Appeals at Milan on the kickbacks given by AgustaWestland to seal a 12 AW101 chopper deal in their favour. The Italian court has, in its ruling, made damning observations, putting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in the dock, which it just cannot escape by political mudslinging or manoeuvring.

The Rs 3,546 crore AgustaWestland contract created sensation in the Indian political circles when, in February 2013, Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of AgustaWestland’s parent company Finmeccanica, was arrested on charges of corruption. A probe by Italian investigative agencies had alleged that

Mr Orsi paid bribes through middlemen, including Indian nationals and consultant, Guido Haschke, an Italian national. The probe further pointed out that the terms of the tender were altered to accommodate AgustaWestland which was competing with American chopper maker Sikorsky’s S-92 Superhawk. The first tender had a service ceiling requirement of 6,000 metre, which was reduced by the defence ministry in the second tender in 2006 to 4,500 metre.

As a face-saving measure, the then defence minister, A.K. Antony, scrapped the scam-ridden deal in January 2014, but did not blacklist the firm. Even the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India brought to light irrefutable facts regarding deviations from the established procedure in procurement of the 12 helicopters. Though the Central Bureau of Investigation initiated the preliminary inquiry after the arrests of by the Italian police, the investigation on the Indian side went on at a snail’s pace.

Even the Italian Court of Appeals made scathing remarks on the then Indian defence ministry’s deliberate attempts to derail the investigation by not cooperating with their Italian counterparts. It pointed out that the UPA government showed substantial disregard in sharing key information to reach the truth of the matter. The Italian agencies had sought all documents concerning the Rs 3,546 crore-chopper deal in April 2013, but had received only three documents pertaining to the case by March 2014.

The Italian court, in its order, has established the fact that kickbacks to the tune of Rs 360 crore were given.

However, Congress leaders who were in power at the time the deal was signed and sealed refuse to reveal the names of the bribe takers. In the course of the Italian probe, the names of Congress’ high command, including Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel, had cropped up a number of times.

The most recent disclosure by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Kirit Somaiya brings to light the link between Rahul Gandhi’s close aide Kanishka Singh and Mr Haschke, exposing the Congress’ citadel of corruption headed by the Gandhi scion.

The brazenness with which the Congress is fighting the current storm, by flinging charges at the BJP instead of coming clean, does not shock anyone.

In fact, it has accepted that its image in the eyes of the Indian masses is that of a party that functions for two sole purposes: to keep the Nehru-Gandhi family politically relevant and to fill its coffers as and when the opportunity arises, thus becoming almost synonymous with corruption.

The Narendra Modi-led government has laid out a roadmap to make India’s defence procurement procedure more transparent and accountable while weeding out the delay causing norms that has kept India’s defence base weak and outdated.

With the introduction of the defence procurement procedure 2016, it has put emphasis on “maintaining highest standards of transparency, probity and public accountability” in defence deals, while ensuring that “expeditious procurement, high quality standards and appropriate cost needs are established”.

Vijender Gupta is Leader of the Opposition, Delhi Legislative Assembly

$It is all Congress’ doing

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Let’s state the facts first. It is on record that the deal with AgustaWestland to buy choppers for VVIP movement was initiated by the earlier National Democratic Alliance government and the decision to reduce the height of flying ceiling from 6,000 metre to 4,500 metre, to accommodate AgustaWestland, was made in November 2003 by the NDA government. Thereafter, the negotiations started which continued after the change of government in 2004.

In February 2010, the contract to purchase 12 helicopters was given to AgustaWestland for Rs 3,546 crore. Two clauses were included in the contract dealing with penalty for use of “undue influence”. AgustaWestland also signed an “integrity pact” with the Government of India (GOI). For any breach, the buyer was entitled to forfeit the earnest money, cancel the contract, recover the paid amount with interest and debar the bidder for a minimum of five years. All these were done to prevent corruption.

Following media reports in 2012, inquiries were made. In February 2013, UPA-2 cancelled the deal and handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation. In March 2013, UPA-2 proposed to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on AgustaWestland, but the BJP turned it down. In the meanwhile, the GOI initiated a court case in Italy against AgustaWestland for violating the integrity pact and managed to recover Rs 2,068 crore against payment of Rs 1,620 crore and confiscated three helicopters.

On February 2014, UPA-2 started proceedings to blacklist AgustaWestland and its parent company, Finmeccanica. All contracts with the said companies were put on hold and they were blacklisted on July 2014. It’s strange that in the same month, the Modi government took an opinion from attorney general to escape banning of these companies. In August 2014, India’s Foreign Investment Promotion Board gave approval to Indian Rotorcraft Ltd — a joint venture between AgustaWestland and Tata — to produce upgraded versions of the AW119 reconnaissance and surveillance helicopter. AgustaWestland/Finmeccanica was allowed to bid for 100 naval utility helicopters. It’s inexplicable that the Modi government not only failed to complete CBI inquiry in two years but also invited AgustaWestland/Finmeccanica to be a part of “Make in India”.

The BJP is accusing Sonia Gandhi and her close associates for taking bribe based on a judgment by an Italian court. In a recent interview, Judge Marco Maiga clearly states that there is no evidence against Mrs Gandhi. She has been indicated as somebody who will fly in the VVIP helicopters. A hand-written “budget sheet”, supposedly by Christian Michel, an alleged middleman, indicates amounts earmarked for distribution as bribes. The initial “AP” has given rise to wild speculations as to the identity of the person, despite the fact that there could be a million “APs” in India.

A report in an English daily on April 28, 2016, claims that Mr Michel wrote a letter, dated November 8, 2015, to Mr Modi suggesting the budget sheet may actually be fake: “This is one of the oldest tricks played by many hawala dealers in India: leave a fake black book in your safe, falsely naming everyone not involved whom you may have a grudge against, in case you are raided.” The AgustaWestland had all the reasons to have a grudge against the Congress leadership since their contract was cancelled. However, the more worrying factor is that if there is any truth in this report, then it’s clear that Mr Modi and his government are playing a dirty, vindictive game against the Congress and Mrs Gandhi to deliberately discredit the innocent and throttle the voice of the Opposition.

The BJP believes in the creed that politics is a game of perception. It has crossed all limits of decency to create a perception through its unscrupulous propaganda machinery that the Congress, especially the Gandhi family, is drenched in corruption. But Indians, with their millennium-old wisdom, believe in a higher, more primordial and universal principle that is incorporated in our national emblem: Satyamev Jayate!

Sharmistha Mukherjee is Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee’s chief spokesperson and national media panelist, AICC

$Modi & Co. playing a dirty game

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