Scams in States’ helicopter deals too?

The Hindu, December 14, 2016

While investigation into alleged irregularities in the purchase of AgustaWestland helicopters for the Air Force picks steam, Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) audit reports from many States document irregularities in acquisition of helicopters for similar VVIP duties.

A public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed in the Supreme Court, demanding a comprehensive investigation into the purchases by State governments, is slated for a hearing on January 10, though the Central government has opposed such an investigation.

Over the past decade or so, when Indian VVIPs began to use helicopters extensively, the Central government and the States procured expensive and advanced multi-engine helicopters for their brass.

Most expensive

Among the procurements, the most expensive was the purchase of a dozen VVIP helicopters by the Air Force in 2010, in which the CBI has now arrested former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi and others.

Various States also procured helicopters in recent years for the movement of Governors, Chief Ministers and other State-level dignitaries.

Mess in J&K

In an audit report in 2015, the CAG pointed out illegalities committed by the Jammu & Kashmir government in procurement of AgustaWestland’s A-109 E Power helicopter in 2004-05.
The report said the procurement was carried out in a non-transparent manner.
Last year, a CAG report documented irregularities committed by the Punjab government in procuring a Bell helicopter without inviting tenders.

It was in violation of Punjab Financial Rules.

The purchase of an AgustaWestland helicopter by the Rajasthan government in 2005 too faced allegations of lack of transparency. In 2008, an audit report of the CAG said that the State government suffered an unnecessary loss of Rs. 1.14 crore because the helicopter was lying unused for a long time.

Reason: the State didn’t have a trained pilot.

In 2006, the purchase of a VVIP helicopter from AgustaWestland by the Jharkhand government too was carried out without an open tender.

The most damning evidence is in Chhattisgarh. The PIL plea has alleged a criminal conspiracy.

‘Sham tender’

“In the Chhattisgarh deal, a sham tender was called for a particular model of Agusta helicopter in which three companies represented by the same person participated and forged documents were created. Further it is apparent from the record that money over and above the actual price of the helicopter was siphoned off in foreign exchange in certain accounts of banks outside the country,” according to the PIL plea filed by Swaraj Abhiyan led by advocate Prashant Bhushan and others.

Despite recommendation for open tender, invitations were sent to only suppliers of AgustaWestland helicopter, according to State government records submitted in the Supreme Court. A part of the payment was remitted to an account in Singapore, not owned by the company that supplied the helicopter. The Singapore account was controlled by an investment banker.

A limited CAG audit in 2010-11 said that in the Chhattisgarh deal, the State incurred an additional expenditure of Rs. 65 lakh.

The PIL plea has had three hearings, said Sudiep Shrivastav, one of the advocates appearing for the petitioner, who was also a key petitioner in the coal scam PIL petition.

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