by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Feb 13
Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi, the former Indian Air Force (IAF) chief who has been named by Italian investigators as a recipient of bribes in India’s Rs 3,700-crore purchase of 12 AW-101 AgustaWestland helicopters, has revealed to Business Standard it was former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra who took the crucial decision that a helicopter which could convey VIPs to helipads at 15,000 feet would meet Indian requirements.
Italian investigators, who are probing corruption in international arms deals by defence giant Finmeccanica, have charged that Tyagi was paid to “tweak” the IAF’s requirements in order to bring the AgustaWestland helicopter into contention. Initially, when the requirements were framed in 2000, it was specified that the helicopter should be able to land at altitudes of 18,000 feet. This requirement was diluted to 15,000 feet in 2003.
“It was none other than Brajesh Mishra, the prime minister’s principal secretary and India’s first national security advisor, who decided that 15,000 feet would suffice. Defence Minister George Fernandes had initially kept the requirement to 18,000 feet because he travelled frequently to Siachen. But that stringent requirement meant that only one helicopter, offered by Eurocopter, met the Indian requirements. Brajesh Mishra wanted a wider choice and he ordered that 15,000-feet capability would suffice.”
Further, says Tyagi, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) felt that the Eurocopter did not meet the requirements of the Special Protection Group (SPG), which is responsible for the PM’s security. The Eurocopter’s passenger cabin was too low, which meant that the security personnel could not take position while travelling with the PM.
“It was the SPG and the PMO which, then, drove most of the decision-making on the helicopter’s specifications. This contract was not handled by the IAF, like conventional weapons contracts. This was driven from a very high level, from the PMO itself,” says Tyagi.
Tyagi notes that the decision to dilute the helicopter’s specifications was first taken by the NDA government. However, when the UPA government came to power in May 2004, there was no change in the direction that the Brajesh Mishra-led PMO had given for the purchase. “I don’t understand why AgustaWestland would need to bribe me. When I took over as Chief of Air Staff (CAS) at the beginning of 2005, the process of framing specifications was almost complete. And, the contract itself was signed in 2010, more than two years after I left office. So, why waste money on me?” asks Tyagi.
Today, a day after referring the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation, Defence Minister A K Antony threatened the government would not hesitate to blacklist or invoke legal and financial penalties against any vendor which had resorted to illegal practices to bag an Indian defence contract.
“Nobody will be spared, whatever may be the consequences… If a company violates the conditions (of the Defence Procurement Procedure), they are liable for criminal action. The company is liable to be blacklisted,” Antony told reporters today.
Yesterday, Guiseppe Orsi, the chief of Finmeccanica (AgustaWestland is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica) was arrested after Italian investigators found prima facie wrongdoing in international defence contracts, including the payment of bribes in India for the AgustaWestland contract.