Bureaucrat facilitators of corruption

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.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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22 Responses to Bureaucrat facilitators of corruption

  1. &^%$#@! says:

    Nice article! Can a sitting CAG be impeached?

  2. &^%$#@! says:

    While all this exceptional detective work is being done by Parrikar and Modi, IAF combat strengths are continually falling. The first task of the Indian Government is to realistically tackle this issue. The corruption can never be stopped in India because the rot has penetrated too deep.

  3. &^%$#@! says:

    With the present AW scandal, the IN’s Scorpene class submarines (another deal richly warranting a serious investigation) are without their primary armament. That’s because the primary weapon of the Scorpene class submarine, the Black Shark torpedo, is designed and manufactured by WASS (Whitehead Sistemi Subacquei) a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, How does the Indian Government plan to tackle this matter?

  4. quickboy says:

    Two things here, Govt cannot go and completely dump Raffale
    IAF made sure that Govt is required to buy it, Well what about the huge adverse publicity our CHRISTIAN MICHAEL managed media will put out of they cancel it altogether, Now as the earlier commenter pointed out, How will India get over the UPA-1&2 now is the question, DO we have any planes, choppers, ships or subs left?.
    ST: Anthony seems to have been made a reluctant bedfellow by the regime and even he had to order a probe, which we know was going to find nothing. Now the question is, If one of the very senior Antony with an image of non-corruption, has to flex, who would have been the master mind and how powerful they are?.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      WRT your statement: “IAF made sure that Govt is required to buy it,”, I believe it is Modi and his stupidity that would make sure that the Govt. buys it. In addition, there is talk that one of his favorite industrial houses might be seriously compromised in this deal. If the Govt. bought/made another 150+ Su-30 MKI’s and told the IAF to fly them, they would. There might be some squawking from compromised senior officers, who could be cashiered and/or investigated into. In any case, these guys won’t be flying the plane and they are incapable of planning or strategy, so they are deadwood.

      • quickboy says:

        AGreed, What I was pointing out is , Had the Govt just gave up all the Raffale deal, The security of INDIA will be compromised compaign would have came out, Just remember the headlines when Govt decided to go for TEJAS aircraft, They ranged from “Modi pushes obsolete fighter on IAF to “Modi and his make in India makes IAF deficient etc….That is the whole point, Bribocrats knows that after getting their share they will make more SU-30 and Tejas and even FGFA anyway. Also they will be happy if the TEJAS will not develop any furter, Same is the case with Jet engine etc….

  5. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Re. HTT-40 – “Once Vayu Bhavan succeeded in convincing the Govt of the day that HAL couldn’t hack it”.

    How does it happen that the same Vayu Bhavan that was not convinced about HAL’s ability to make the HTT-40 is now sanguine about HAL’s ability to tweek Tejas into a potent LCA Mk-1A of SOP-18?

    Anyhow it is interesting the same person who as Defence Secretary, was at the ground zero in MOD when the LCA was developing its famous 53 deficiencies goes on to find those 53 deficiencies in LCA as a CAG. Hallelujha.

    So what exactly does a Defence Secretary, secrete while in office? Acquisitions and Date of Births?

    Also Prashant Bhushan’s PIL against appointment of CAG was dismissed.

  6. &^%$#@! says:

    The situation in India has reached a stage where the Law can be bought, and justice sold. Corruption and rot have reached a scale where they pose THE most dangerous threat to National Security and democracy. In such situations, a responsible government would foster special unit(s) having plenipotentiary powers and separated from the usual compromised and incompetent counter intelligence agencies. The mandate of these special unit(s) would be to ensure that terror and nemesis falls upon the criminally avaricious.

    A new type of justice needs to be meted out. Justice without mercy, pity, or favor. There have been precedents in other countries (some of the very well known ones being democratic nations), albeit few records are readily accessible in the open domain. The interested reader is thus referred to fiction, and the novels by Edgar Wallace on The Four Just Men.

  7. Agree with most in this article except the outside experts to be consulted as a panacea part. Bureaucracy is at least bounded by service rules. Outside experts would be further down the accountability spectrum.

    Institutions are the strength of the country and go beyond governments. What are checks and balances in bureaucracy against corruption and political interference which would be against law is a matter of great concern for us. This applies to police as well.Institutional immunity from political whims and autonomy to perform duties as sanctioned by law is key.

    Corruption can’t be completely eradicated that is first constrain of nature to understand. Fight against corruption never begins from home team by politicians so will be weak against the opponents too. People cant pin hopes on any individual or government to reduce it. Although committed leadership is of great help. People are often compromised given the circumstances. Having a competition between political parties to seem least corrupt in the eyes of the people is our best hope for reform.

    Institutional checks and balances, transparent governable/auditable procedures are needed but a prescription to bypass or break institutions because of distrust in them may sound good idea for quick fix but leaves us open to more whims and fancies.

    How to make sure that bureaucratic institutions modeled on the church hierarchy does not turn into an Opes Dei by means of right checks and balances is something this country is still trying to figure. This is reflected by the failure of our institutions but I am not convinced that by passing the institution is a solution. Till Indian genius comes up with a better model we have to retain these imported institutional models which serve the purpose of continuity in a democratic system which needs to have a change for good reason every 5 years.

  8. Vikash ujjwal says:

    Shahiskant Sharma is a smooth talking rascal . Had the misfortune of meeting him at CAG office last year . Should be sacked ASAP

  9. Venkat says:

    Corruption needs to be handled . The investigating agencies need to be allowed to do their job and take it logical conclusion quickly .
    However that said , it should affect not the nation.
    Maybe that is why Modi converted Rafale to Govt to Govt deal. Do same for other machines. This L1 competitive bid is not working, let armed forces short list short list 2 or 3. Then Govt should make Govt to Govt deal. Does it really matter if armed forces get Pilatus or Beechcraft ? Scorpene or U-214 ? Rheinmetall or Ceaser Guns ?Are they so dramatically different ? There are not so many varieties or sources anyway.
    The current situation should not become another Bofors, fine gun meshed in controversy, Army still waiting.

  10. &^%$#@! says:

    If Nehru and his cabal could get away scot-free after 1948, Article 370, and 1962, anything is possible. Nothing can stop this corruption and rot. There’s a lot of Nehru and RG-1 in Modi, viz. unbridled egomania, crass incompetence, and a craze for the west (though Nehru fitted into western culture far better than Modi with his cheap grocer’s English, hugging, and groping). I believe in the next 5-10 years, India will start breaking up. Indians can be compressed to zero mass – an impossibility in physics but a possibility and daily occurrence with the loud mouthed, verbose, and spineless Indians. A military reversal vis-a-vis Pakistan is also a possibility. BTW have details of the latest census been released?

  11. &^%$#@! says:

    There are credible reasons to believe that when Modi goes to the US to address the joint session of the US Congress, and fill the dome of the Capitol with his unique brand of cheap grocer’s English (instead of the superb highly Sanstritized Hindi he is capable of), he might go berserk. Specifically, there is talk that he MIGHT after the appropriate presentations a few rounds of flattery, hugging, and groping make an announcement of the Indian Government’s decision to manufacture the F-16/-18’s in the Make in India charade as a stop gap measure for the IAF’s acquisition of the hopelessly flawed JSF. Though there is talk that the IAF is not in favor of the US “teens”, a few Green Cards should suffice in getting any recalcitrant elements to immediately switch their stance.

  12. Atul says:

    Prof Bharat,
    Has he again postponed the Agni-V canister trials?? Is it true or the launch is still on?

    If he has really postponed it again, then this is bloody mockery of India’s strategic interests !!! What is going on in the MEA? Chinese are already making fun on visa issue and now he is buckling beyond what one can even imagine !! Where is this entire line of strategic thought leading to??

  13. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Is the A-5 test likely once NaMo returns after paying obeisance at DC ?

  14. As stated in previous posts on the subject, this is the first test of a canisterized A-5; the previous two tests being launches from pad/TEL. The Kasturiranagn metric requires three successive successful tests for induction. Would the pending canisterized test be the first or the third?

    • satyaki says:

      Bharat Sir,

      The first test of a canisterized A-5 took place on Jan 31, 2015. With that 3 successful consecutive tests have happened already, the first two from a pad/TEL. I do not know if the Jan 31, 2015 test counts as test 1 (first time canisterized) or test 3 (there were two ejection tests of a dummy A-5 from a canister in addition to the 3 flight tests). What is due now is a second canisterized test, which is being postponed repeatedly.

  15. quysudhz says:

    Mr Karnad , Now what is being questioned is the life cycle cost model for acquisition, in the case of pilatus. In that case another big buck deal of Airbus MRTT flight refueller should also come under scanner ? Although it is stuck for some other reason of pending CBI enquiry against Airbus.

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