The BJP government has picked up on the fact mentioned in a post from a week ago about all IAF acquisitions of late being scams. Those that have come to light are the Rs 3,700 crore Agusta-Westland VVIP helo deal and, not entirely unconnected with it, the contract for the Pilatus 7C basic trainer aircraft, and potentially a big scandal relating to the Rafale combat aircraft, with the same dramatis personnae featuring prominently in all three deals.
The one curious aspect that emerges from the media brouhaha about defence corruption is that while the political and military ends of these two deals — the Congress Party involved in both cases as the political driver, and the IAF dispensations under ACM SP Tyagi for the Agusta item and ACM NAK Browne for the Pilatus, are under the scanner, the facilitative bureaucratic element — the IAS officers in MOD have yet to be identified and their roles investigated.
The Pilatus scam arose from a simple fact: The exacting Staff Requirements (SRs) for a basic turboprop trainer were drafted by IAF for an indigenous aircraft to be designed and developed indigeneously by HAL. Once Vayu Bhavan succeeded in convincing the Govt of the day that HAL couldn’t hack it and the immediate need for a trainer necessitated the purchase of a foreign aircraft the IAF HQrs, mysteriously, lowered the SRs to accommodate the obsolete Pilatus 7C (just how ancient? Well, Burma used it in 1977 and Australia just discarded it after 30 years of use!), even though the higher standards for indigeneous plane were met by the 9C version of Pilatus and the other entrants in the trainer competition, in the main, the South Korean KT-1 and the American Beechcraft T-6C. Owing to the lowest tender (L1) system, Pilatus 7C Mk-II won the race but at a high price, with ceiling originally set for the more modern 9C or equivalent aircraft. The differential in price between the old inferior trainer IAF procured and the more advanced and current technology aircraft it passed up is the money available for filling the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats, and the senior air force officers in the loop.
The Italian court documents relating to Augusta helos reveal the proportion in which the loot is distributed, with roughly 30 million Euros in payoffs being disbursed in all — 16 million euros reserved for politicians, 8 million for MOD (mostly IAS) babus, and some 6 million euros for IAF officers. The ratio works to approximately 1:1.3:2.7, with the militarymen being the bottom-feeders and the political leaders the top-feeders. And these are the two sets of culprits who get fingered. But how come the bureaucrat-facilitators who take a big chunk of the payoffs and bribes in the middle go virtually unidentified and scott free, happy in their retirement to loll in their ill-gotten wealth stacked in prime real estate and properties, and dummy companies in the names of their spouses and near relatives?? This last is what needs a thorough investigation.
If one examines the bureaucratic big shots who were in play in both the Agusta and Pilatus deals, and nursemaiding the Rafale acquisition, there were many of the same people in MOD, whose roles need to be scrutinized. Times TV is the only television channel to highlight the one main MOD babu who was central to progressing these deals through the GOI maze — Shashikant Sharma, who was appointed to the Constitutional post of Comptroller & Accountant General (CAG). Asked about his involvement in these scams, he replied nonchalantly that the Agusta (and also Pilatus) needed to be investigated. So, the govt should do it on priority basis.
Consider Sharma’s postings — he pulled almost 10 years in MOD — rather rare for an IAS babu, apparently augmenting his reputation with every passing year among the political class for facilitating military purchase transactions. His record of postings (per Wikipedia) are as follows:
December 2003-February 2007, Joint secretary (Air), MOD
February–April 2007, Additional Secretary, MOD
April- August, 2007, Additional Secretary,Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances
August 2007 – November, 2009, Additional Secretary, DG (Acquisition), MOD
November, 2009-September 2010, Secretary, DG (Acquisition), MOD
September 2010- February 2011,Secretary, Ministry of Communications & Information Technology
February–July 2011,Secretary,Ministry of Finance
July 2011- May 2013, Defense Secretary, MOD
Now match up his posts with procurement decisions: As JS(Air), MOD, in 2003 he was the pivotal player for the Augusta VVIP helo decision; as Add Sec and DG Acquisition and Sec and DG Acquisition in 2010 onward he decided on Pilatus 7C and, as Defence Secretary, enabled the Rafale selection and deal to go through — a deal whose passage he initially smoothened as head of Acquisitions, MOD, and which is likely to soon explode into a full-fledged public scandal.
The Sonia Gandhi-run Congress party govt rewarded Sharma, perhaps, for services endered, by appointing him CAG, post-retirement, in 2013, to succeed Vinod Rai, ironically, an IAS officer with a spotless reputation and career record in MOD. CAG is a Constitutional position beyond the pale of the law. Hence, was this appointment then by design? Of course the indefatigable Prashant Bhushan immediately filed a PIL (public interest litigation) case in the supreme court challenging Sharma’s appointment as CAG for reasons of “conflict of interest” because his office may have to rule on the propriety of the financial dealings concerning the Agusta helo, Pilatus trainer, and Rafale transactions he had the main role in advancing.
As I have warned in my earlier posts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is best advised to swallow his pride and for the BJP govt to peremptorily junk the Rafale deal. Because if the 36 Rafale buy goes through, assuming just one term for Modi, the govt that succeeds his in 2019, will ensure his name and that of BJP’s will become synonymous with the Rafale corruption scandal as the Congress party is forever tainted by the Bofors scam, and where corruption is concerned will always be on tenterhooks about what, when, where, how and by whom the next revelation of BJP-Modi complicity will come — the state of the Congress party today.
If good sense prevails and political survival is on its mind the BJP government should now wash its hands of the Rafale aircraft, bury it, because for all intents and political purposes, it is already dead.
Conveniently for him, Sharma got his Sancho Panza from MOD days — his JS(Air) when he was DG Acquisitions and Defence Secretary and his IAS junior — GR Rao, appointed as Deputy CAG!!! And recall that as Defence Secretary his role was seminal in ruling out extension in service of the then army chief and now minister of state, MEA, General VK Singh.
So, how kosher does all this look? The Constitutional issue that arises is whether a CAG and his cohort implicated in a defence procurement scam are above the law? Or will the BJP govt have to await his retirement as CAG in 2017 before indicting him and throwing him in jail?
The problem for defence minister Manohar Parrikar, assuming he discards the Rafale altogether and doesn’t have to worry about being hauled up in the future for it, is how to explain his decision to buy the additional 38 7C trainers, when the facts of wrongdoing and payoffs in the deal were known to just about everybody in MOD and which have caused the BJP regime to investigate the Pilatus deal. If it is argued that Parrikar did not apply his mind then the lesson for him to learn is not to trust the advice of babus and militarymen with vested interests, discard what they say, but study issues and seek advice of outside experts, before making treasury-emptying decisions where military procurement is concerned that can make or mar his personal reputation and that of his govt. Were the BJP to also order a probe into the Rafale deal as it has so far unfolded, there will be revelations there that will take the country by surprise, primarily in how smoothly the embedded system of corruption kicks into action every time there is even a whiff of military acquisition in the air.
The point to make is that bureaucrats, as handmaidens of corruption, invariably get away with the vilest wrongdoing, assisting their political masters to milk the system while keeping a lot or little for themselves as nest egg, even as everybody else gets hauled up. This has to end. Consider just how crucial the IAS babus are in the procurement game. The military service’s role is limited primarily to the drawing of SRs and then technically and professionally justifying the hardware pre-selected by the political leaders, the rest of the shortlisting process being so much eyewash — this has been the Congress Party’s record anyway. The DG Acquisitions, MOD, is actually central to approving hardware purchases. And Price Negotiation Committee (PNC) headed by Add Sec, MOD, Joint Sec (concerned service) and Defence Finance officers, with a one-star rank military officer asked to fill space at the negotiating table and not actually participate, firming up the contract. And because IAS babus in MOD are generalists — whose knowledge of military matters even after serving many years in the Ministry ranges between iffy and nonexistent, the contracts that accrue almost w/o exception favour the foreign vendor (whose negotiators are all specialists in legal nuances and technical minutiae in their fields and who run circles around the noncomprehending dolts on the Indian side).
If the BJP govt is serious about accountability and bringing all the culprits in the Agusta, Pilatus, and potentially Rafale boondoggles to book, it better not overlook their main bureaucrat facilitator(s). Seek the counsel of the attorney general about whether a serving CAG can be prosecuted, at a minimum, for his apparent malfeasance and fiduciary irresponsiblity. If as CAG he cannot be touched by law, then it is incumbent on the govt to prepare an airtight legal case against him, and to prosecute him the day he demits office as CAG, which is only a year away. If the Gandhis and ACM Tyagi & “Fratelli Tyagi” and ACM Browne (now ambassador to Norway) are to be made examples of, so should the IAS officers involved in these three deals.