AgustaWestland probe not to go the Bofors way, asserts Parrikar

Congress did an inadvertent favour to the ruling BJP and damaged its own cause by walking out of Parliament on a flimsy pretext minutes after Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had begun responding to a short duration discussion on VVIP chopper scam in Lok Sabha.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

The main opposition party thus gave a complete freehand to the government to respond the way it liked on such a politically sensitive issue where public perception mattered much more than the legalities.

Parrikar concluded his 50-minute long speech by making a tall assertion -- "the truth (of bribery) may lead to very unwanted realism (to Congress leadership). What we could not do in Bofors, maybe, we will do it in AgustaWestland."

If there are any doubts which way investigations are heading take it directly from the Defence Minister: "On one thing I was very comfortable and very happy that time and again the then defence minister, and now everyone agreed that corruption happened. And it happened during UPA time thereby it's clear and is basically logical that money has been paid to someone from the other side (Congress), not from this side BJP).

"Actually, there are so many irregularities. I am shocked and this is the biggest shock for me. How could you have given an order and accepted tender of a company to whom you have not given the tender? They had lost sense of proportion. They thought that they will be permanently in the ruling. The smell of money or the sight of euro
probably was so attractive or intoxicating that they forgot to cover small details... We will now get the documents very fast."

Unlike Rajya Sabha where Parrikar had read out his speech in English from a written text, in Lok Sabha he spoke extempore in Hindi, also responding to individual queries and using English only when he had to refer from official documents to substantiate his point. Also he had larger numbers on his side in Lower House.

While AgustaWestland is proving to be Bofors 2.0 for the Congress but there has been an all round scepticism that the investigations in the choppergate too in the end could go Bofors way -- not to its logical conclusion after years of sound and fury against those perceived to be accused in the case, or those actually named. Politically and
administratively, it was important for someone at the top in Modi government to clarify on that aspect. Parrikar has, for now, fired that punch, he and his government now has to prove that on issues of heightened public sensitivities they are true to their words.

The Defence Minister made another announcement, which may have interesting bearing on course of investigations in the case. The government will ask for CBI inquiry in incidence of fire on 3 July 2014 at Air Force Two offices. From what he said it was clear that he suspected that the someone with intentions to burn all the records pertaining to AgustaWestland helicopter AW 101 had put the building on fire but didn't fully succeed in his intentions because three key files relating to the field testing of the VVIP chopper was saved. These files were kept in drawer of officer concerned.

It would be interesting to see what those files said, giving a complete negative certificate to these high cost Agusta Westland chopper intended to fly the VVIP, President, PM and such other dignitaries:

"Effective pay load capacity at MSL in OGE configuration is nil above 30 degree centigrade...meaning that if the temperature is above 30 degree C then it would be able to lift any load. With day time temperature usually above 10 degree in most of the plains of North India, pay load capacity in OGE configuration is limited to 300 kg reducing with every degree rise in temperature above 10 degree. Effective pay load capacity at 3,500 feet, AMSL in OGE configuration is nil above minus five degree. At Srinagar, 5,450 feet AMSL, effective pay load is nil in OGE configuration at all ranges of temperature. Even in IGE configuration, a reduced pay load is to be accepted. The common VVIP sorties to Nehru Helipad cannot be undertaken. Similar in the case of Gulmarg and Pahalgam, where VVIP sorties have been flown in the past using Mi-17 4 helicopters."

Way back in 1985 Panwan Hans was given 21 Westland choppers under British grants as the British Government wanted to save this company.

Of these two-three helicopters crashed and then it was realised, that there were technical faults with these choppers. In the year 2000, Agusta acquired Westland. None knows, not even incumbent defence minister whether the matter was checked by Air Force when they recommended AgustaWestland (AW).

Parrikar had said in Rajya Sabha that the government had agreed to buy these choppers six times more than the initial base price fixed by the Air Force, field trials were conducted abroad in contravention to the original agreement that had said that too on some other representative chopper, not on AW 101 which were to be acquired.

The CAG report had highlighted that the Field Evaluation Trial of AW101 of AgustaWestland. It was conducted on representative helicopters Merlin MK-3A and CIV01 and mock-up of the passenger cabin and not on the actual helicopter.

In effect, by changing the SQRs (service quality requirements) and making 1.85 meters cabin height mandatory, a situation was created in which EC-225 helicopter, which had met all Operational Requirements earlier. It facilitated emergence of AW-101 as a single vendor.

In the process he painted then defence minister AK Antony, the so-called Mr Clean as Mr Bechara (helpless). "Bechara Antony ke haat band kar rakha....The day Giuseppe Orsi (CEO of Agusta Westland) was arrested Antony thought my sainthood robes would be derobed and in panic and sent files to CBI in three hours. What I realise from the officers is that he was in panic virtually. He sent it because he wanted to protect his image. I agree up to an extent bechara."

His argument was the former Air Force Chief who retired in 2007 was a minor player who perhaps collected only the chillars (small change). He couldn't have taken decision when the agreement was inked in 2010. The present government's task is to unearth the big players who influenced the decision.

He also had suggested that there was a connection between Michel Christian and Congress. "Michel is a fugitive. Therefore, they should not treat him as if he is telling gospel truth. You don't know that they can get any document from Michel very fast and within no time. They are lucky, I said because they have support from all these people including Italian translation into English. We will definitely recover bribe - we will recover something like €398 million, which is the damage that we are claiming. This process will start now."

Taking charge from the Congress side, Jyotiraditya Scindia termed said Sonia Gandhi as fearless lioness who could take on all kinds attacks targeted against her. "She is a sherni (lioness)...they are scared of her", he said.

Just that the lioness did not roar in Parliament, nor did Rahul Gandhi.

Updated Date: May 07, 2016 10:00 AM

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