New Delhi, May 6 (IANS) Defence Minister Manohor Parrikar on Friday assured the Lok Sabha that the CBI probe into the AgustaWestland chopper scam will be taken to its logical conclusion and accountability fixed on wrongdoers.
After the government rejected a Congress demand for a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the chopper deal, parliamentarians from the opposition party at a later stage walked out of the lower house, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
“I can assure you all, I will not fail. What we could not do in Bofors, we may be able to do in AgustaWestland,” Parrikar said.
His response came on queries and observations of members, including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarians Anurag Thakur and Nishikant Dubey, Saugata Roy (Trinamool) and Jyotiraditya Scindia (Congress), during a discussion on a calling attention motion under Rule 197.
The Bofors controversy erupted after allegations surfaced regarding kickbacks from Bofors AB company of Sweden for winning a bid to supply 155 mm field howitzer to India. It led to the ouster of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government in 1989.
Parrikar said the then defence minister A.K. Antony put on hold the deal only on May 12, 2014, at the fag end of the Lok Sabha elections, and wondered if it was driven by the results of exit polls, which were going in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“The field trials of the chopper were initially opposed by Antony. But he was later convinced to change his stand,” the minister said.
“Some concessions were given, especially to a single vendor. It was not given to other companies. This showed the favour,” the defence minister said.
Parrikar said that while the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government broadened the Services Qualitative Requirements to get more companies in the tender process for the VVIP choppers, the successor United Progressive Alliance government made it restrictive only to help AgustaWestland.
Amid objections from some opposition members, the minister said: “The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) may not be under me, but I am monitoring the progress in the case.”
While attacking the Congress government, Parrikar also tried to show sympathies with Antony and dubbed him “bechare (helpless)”.
“Bechare Antony sahab ke haath baandhe they (a helpless Antony had his limitations),” Parrikar said and added that once an arrest was made in 2012 in Italy in the case, “Antony was virtually in panic”.
“…because Antony wanted to protect his image,” Parrikar said, adding, “within two-three hours, Antony moved the file, cleared papers and ordered a CBI probe”.
However, the minister said, the CBI just sat over the matter and “did nothing” till January 2014.
The debate was punctuated with sarcasm and humour from both sides.
At one point, Congress members, including party president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi and Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, walked out after Kharge’s demand for a Supreme Court-monitored probe was rejected by the government.
Parrikar said the tender for the contract was submitted by Italy-based AgustaWestland but given to the UK-based AgustaWestland International.
“This was my biggest shock. I have never seen that a tender submitted by one company is given to some other company,” he said.
Parrikar said former Air Force officer N.V. Tyagi and city-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan, the two accused in the Rs.3,600-crore chopper scam, were only “small people”.
The minister tabled a document, saying it pertained to minutes of a meeting held on May 9, 2005, wherein the VVIP choppers’ cabin height was mandated to be 1.8 metre.
He also referred to a fire mishap in an office wherein important files are stored.
“The fire broke out mysteriously and many files were destroyed. But three files were safe as they were retained in a locker by an official. I will now even ask the CBI to probe the cause of the fire as it raises some questions,” Parrikar said.