On Wednesday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar targeted the previous UPA regime over the controversial Augusta Westland helicopter deal. He said that the ongoing investigations into the helicopter deal would focus on those med in the Italian court judgement while suggesting that there was an “invisible hand” in preventing a proper investigation earlier. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah idu and Defence Minister Parrikar both rejected the Opposition demand for a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the helicopter deal. The Congress staged a walkout protesting the NDA government’s rejection of its demand. Replying to a debate in the Rajya Sabha on the controversy surrounding the Rs 3,600 crore deal for 12 VVIP helicopters, the Defence Minister said there was “relentless push” by the UPA to go in for the Augusta Westland helicopters. Amid repeated disruptions, Parrikar rrated the sequence of events related to the helicopter deal. He told the House how the CBI had registered a case on March 12, 2013 but did not bother to forward a copy of the FIR to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for nine months. Later, the ED did not act on the FIR till July 2014, he said. “It appears an invisible hand was guiding action or iction of the CBI and the ED,” the minister said. He informed the House that a probe was already under way, and said that the inquiry would focus “on the roles of those med in the judgement of an Italian court... The government will leave no stone unturned in bringing to justice those involved in the scam.” He added that the CBI had already done a lot of investigation, and was currently on the money trail to track down where the bribe money went. “Pursuant to the judgement of the Milan appellate court, the Defence Ministry has written to both the ED and the CBI to take into account contents of the judgement and conclude the investigations expeditiously,” the Defence Minister said. He also informed the House that the Defence Ministry was initiating the process of blacklisting the companies concerned and for legal proceedings for recovery of damages. “The country wants to know who instigated, supported and benefited from the corruption. We cannot let this pass,” Parrikar said.
The interesting aspect of the Augusta Westland helicopter deal is that the corruption is of diverse parameters. The first of these relates to the need for 12 additiol VVIP helicopters at a cost of Rs 3,600 crore, at a time when the eight helicopters acquired in 1988 for VVIPs were lying mostly unused. Where, then, was the need for 12 additiol helicopters costing Rs 300 crore each for people who had not been using what had been bought for them earlier at considerable cost to the exchequer? Another interesting allegation is that no less a person that the former Indian Air Force chief S.P.Tyagi had brought down the flying ceiling of the helicopters proposed to be purchased from 6,000 metres to 4,000 metres to ensure that Augusta Westland helicopters were eligible to participate in the bids. Another aspect of the corruption is that according to a statement made by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in January 2006, the Indian Air Force had estimated that the maximum cost for the deal would be Rs 793 crore. How could the cost have gone up four-and-a-half times in a matter of about eight years? It is a typical case of politicians in India not only hiking their own salaries, allowances and perquisites by 100 per cent at the drop of a hat, but also a typical case of people generally uble to earn anything to match their aspirations, expecting the government to pay for five-star lifestyles through kickbacks that make the government bleed. With such low ethics about the loot of public money, how can anyone expect defence equipment purchased at great cost to be of the quality claimed by the manufacturers who have to pay huge bribes to get supply orders? That huge bribes had to be paid by Augusta Westland is borne out by the judgement of the Milan court and the disruption of Parliament proceedings by the Congress, some of whose important members were clearly the greatest beneficiaries of the deal. It does not matter in the least that the Milan court did not mention the political party involved. The combition of mes alone should suffice to indicate which political party and its senior leaders were involved. What is also very significant is that despite everything that had happened, it was not the Congress that had blacklisted the company concerned but the NDA government after it came to power in 2014.