VVIP Helicopter Scam: A Shakeup call for India
The subversion of Indian security establishment as a result of the 3,726 crores AgustaWestland VVIP Helicopter scam strikes at the very roots of India’s foundation of nation-state. It is not merely a question of kickbacks amounting to Rs 350 crore, but it has raised doubts about the role of the entire governance and security apparatus of the country, i.e. prime minister, defence minister, National Security Advisor, defence secretary, other senior bureaucrats of the MoD, at least one Chief of Air Staff and the head of the SPG. This is besides the erstwhile’ Super Prime Minister’ and her political secretary.
Before proceeding further, it is pertinent here to explain the broad details of the arms procurement process in the country through a flow chart:-
Stages in Defence Procurement
Services Qualitative Requirements (SQR)
Drafted by the Service Headquarters. Lays down user requirements, which needs to be broad based and realistic. Must express users requirements in terms of capability desire with minimum required verifiable functional characteristics and its formulation must not prejudice the technical choices by being narrow and tailor-made.
Acceptance of Necessity (AoN)
Consequent to SQR. Service HQs prepares ‘Statement of Case’. Total quantity required given out.
Request For Proposal (RFP)
RFP issued soliciting technical and commercial offers, but in two separate sealed envelopes. This system safeguards against possibility of vendor increasing his commercial offer consequent to development of a Single Vendor situation after evaluation. Vendors make offer after consideration of full requirements of acquisitions.
Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC)
TEC constituted by Service HQs for evaluation of Technical Bids in response to RFP
Field Evaluation Trials
Conducted by user service. Trial methodology given in RFP. Shortlisted vendors send equipment to India for trial.
Consequent to ‘Field Evaluation’, Staff Evaluation done by Service HQs to analyze field evaluation results and shortlist equipment recommended for introduction into service.
Technical Oversight Committee (TOC)
Constituted by Defence Secretary comprising three members, one senior service officer, one DRDO scientist, one representative of DPSU. Members should not be involved with the acquisitions case.
Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC)
After Staff Evaluation report is accepted by DG Acquisition and TOC report accepted by Defence Secretary. CNC carries out all processes from opening commercial bids till conclusion of the contract.
Approval of Competent Financial Authority
Note: This is the DPP of 2013, which also has an Integrity Pact for signing all defence deals above 100 crores, wherein the government promises that it will accept no bribe and the bidders promise that they will not offer any bribe. It also stipulates that trials will be on no cost and no commitment basis under Indian conditions. The DPP of 2013 was only a perpetuation of India’s DPP from earlier periods, incorporating certain changes to close the loopholes.
The contrast between patriotic India and Anti- nationals, between ‘men of integrity’ and ‘men of low character’ stands acutely juxtaposed in the run-up, and now in wake of the exposed scam by Italian authorities. What is worrisome, however, is that the latter category invariably triumphed over the former during the tenure of the previous regime. For eight years, after theAW-101 helicopter was disqualified in 2002 during flight trials for failing to reach the stipulated height of 6000 meters, the conspirators were exerting or were rather desperate to somehow bring back the company into reckoning. They insisted that the service ceiling could be reduced from 6000 meters to 4,500 meters on the specious plea that VVIPs rarely flew above that height. Most concerned agencies and organizations were browbeaten, but the then Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamydid not buckle. In January 2004,he insisted that the VVIP helicopters must be able to fly from Leh to Srinagar crossing Zoji La Pass as well as Siachen glacier. Was he wrong? After all, most defence ministers and prime ministers have made several trips to the Siachen and other high altitude areas.It may be reiterated here that movement of VVIPs within the country is part of the country’s security imperative or part of the war-effort at times of war. These are not pleasure trips. Such visits must act as force-multipliers. It would have been more honourable for these VVIPs to risk their lives with the aging MI-8 helicopters than go for a unworthy replacement like the AW-101 which solely relied on bribes to steal the deal.
An Air Force helicopter incapable of flying from Srinagar to Leh is not worth the second look. A year later in March 2005, come new Air Chief SP Tyagi, all these operational imperatives were killed, the height got reduced to 4,500 meters and the AW-101 was back in favour. Accordingly, a new RFP was issued in 2006. Apart from Augusta Westland two other companies i.e makers of MI-172 and Sikorosky(maker of (S-92) helicopters responded. The Russian manufactures of MI-172 helicopter refused to sign the ‘Integrity Pact’ and withdrew. Thereafter the game became much more convenient to manipulate.
The Tyagi brothers allegedly had fixed up this unthinkable altitude concession in favour of AW-101even before their cousin Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi had taken over as the Air Chief. During critical years towards the finalization of the AW-101deal, one person, i.e. Mr. Shashi Kant Sharma had an overwhelming presence in the MoD between 2003 and 2013 with brief interludes elsewhere. In those years in the MoD, he held the appointments of Joint Secretary, Additional Secretary, Additional Secretary DG (Acquisition), Secretary DG (Acquisition), and finally Defence Secretary from July 2011 to May 2013.
Mr. Sharma in these years had not only played a pivotal role in major defence acquisitions but also in the age controversy of General VK Singh, who it is believed by many quarters, to have been the victim of a conspiracy by the arms lobby. The perpetrators of Tatra scam that Gen VK Singh exposed are yet to be punished. In all fairness, it must be said that during the period between 2002 and 2004, there were Defence Secretaries, who stood their ground in rejecting the AW-101. The tragedy however of our land is that those who submitted themselves were rewarded not only with kickbacks but also constitutional posts to render them immune from any legal action.
Normally, the gestation period of such defence procurement is 10 years. The arms lobby therefore has to ensure that at least two service Chiefs, if not three, of its choice, are at the helm to pursue its agenda. It is for these reasons that they, many times, with the help of the government or particularly intelligence agencies of their host countries try and manipulate the ‘succession plan’. It is relevant to reflect that SP Tyagi was succeeded by Air Chief Marshal FM Major, a helicopter pilot, amidst huge protest by the fighter pilots. The age controversy of Gen VK Singh and series of accidents in the Indian Navy, which compelled the Naval Chief Admiral Joshi to resign should be seen in this backdrop.
Mega deals, such as the AW-101 one, cannot go through without a complicit bureaucratic setup in the MoD. The posting profile of these bureaucrats when seen in the backdrop of the defence procurement process as given in the flow chart, says it all.
Such subverted bureaucrats and service chiefs cannot occupy the offices to facilitate corrupt acquisitions without the patronage of the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister. Antony cannot be spared of the guilt. In fact he desiccated the soul of the Indian Armed Forces. It started with ensuring the exit of Gen VK Singh by fabricating the age-controversy and subsequently the Naval Chief because of series of so-called 13 accidents, which came to a halt the moment a new Chief took over. Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, during his service was spared for obvious reasons, and now that his utility is over, the same Antony is protecting himself and his masters by hiding behind him. It may be recalled that Manmohan Singh had prevailed upon Antony to re-seek the opinion of the Law Ministry after a joint secretary had ruled in Gen VK Singh’s favour over the age issue. Manmohan Singh had then maintained that joint secretary was not a high level functionary. Just because a person has a soft or squeaky voice and has a supine and submissive personality does not mean that he is not corrupt. Such people are the worst facilitators of corruption because their character is made in a way that they can go to any extent just to remain in close proximity to the highest power. Manmohan Singh is singularly guilty of violating the spirit of the Constitution by accepting an arrangement with an extra-Constitutional authority over him. His deference to this authority is responsible for all scams under his leadership.
While the technical parameters were tweaked in favour of AW-101 by the Service HQs, i.e. IAF, the magnitude of the kickbacks can only be decided by the politicians, which is evident from the fact that the largest chunk has gone to them, followed by the bureaucrats. In the note written by the middleman Guido Hashcke the distribution of kickbacks is: Politicians- 6mn Euros, AP(allegedly Ahmed Patel)-3mn Euros, bureaucrats-8.4mn Euros and Air Force officials-6mn Euros. This note is vindicated by the Italian Court judgment which sentenced Orsi to four years imprisonment for paying 30 mn Euro bribe to Indian politicians and officials.
There was corruption at each stage of the procurement as shown in the flow chart. Not only the service ceiling was reduced from 6,000 meters to 4,500 meters, the height of the cabin was also increased from 1.45 meter to 1.8 meter, thus leading to a single vendor situation in favour of the AW-101 helicopter. Most intriguingly, the field trials of this helicopter were not conducted in India and were carried out on representative helicopters – Merlin MK-3A and Civ-01 instead of AW-101. Compelling test pilots to make compromise on trials does not augur well for the IAF as these pilots have promising careers and are likely to occupy higher ranks in future. Also once it was decided to purchase the said helicopter AW-101, the quantities were increased from 8 to 12. In violation of the basic principle, the helicopters were being procured not from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). This is the most blatant corruption in arms deal in post-independent India. The final price of the helicopters escalated six times from the initial agreement.
Kickbacks in defence deals with foreign countries are just not matter of bribe, but it constitutes an act of sedition and criminality, in that it subverts the armed forces. It plays havoc with the moral fabric of the armed forces. This onslaught has been there since independence. India is the second largest importer of arms. India’s arms import is critical to the economies of the arms industries and their host countries. The western arms industry or the military-industrial complex therefore not only subverts but also creates vulnerabilities and threat perceptions in respect of the target countries. It is no wonder that the media has also allegedly received kickbacks in the AW-101 helicopter scam.
This system of kickbacks was working very smoothly, but for two major disruptions by way of Bofors guns and now AW-101 helicopters. The host country Italy, as Sweden in Bofors case , has not raised the issue of kickbacks, for any altruistic reasons, but because the former Chief of Finmeccanica, Giuseppe Orsi, the parent company of AgustaWestland was arrested at the beginning of 2013, as he had fallen out with the officials in his own country over possibly kickbacks. It is only after the arrest of Orsi that Antony panicked and took some nervous measures to distance himself from the company. On 25 March 2013 Antony stated: ‘’Yes corruption has taken place in helicopter deal and bribes have been taken.’’ It was however too late. There is law in any civilized country wherein a bribe giver can be punished without identifying the bribe taker. The Italian authorities including the Judge Marco Maria Maiga know their identity for certain. He exactly knows who are AP and Signora Gandhi. In fact the name of Signora Gandhi figures four times in the 225 page judgment delivered on 08 April 2016.This is also a quirk of destiny or natural justice that the kingpin of the scam is being undone by the country of origin.
Arms industries and their parent countries, which bribe target countries, also resort to constant blackmail. They in league with the beneficiaries of the bribe will always ensure that India does not become self-reliant in arms. They will never allow indigenous arms industry to takeoff.
We are caught in a terrible vicious cycle arms import trap. The arms lobby is getting increasingly murderous. Here is the opportunity to unshackle and redeem ourselves.