Army Chief played the whistle blower to expose scams
Dr Bhagwati Prakash
The Tatra truck scam, perpetuating since 1986 has no parallel in the history of the defence scams erupted world over. Till date, no defence-scam could ever defy scrutiny for almost 26 years, inspite of gross recklessness in placing repeat orders in supersession of the clearly defined policy directives as well as official objections raised from time to time, against the recurring orders placed for purchase of the out-dated vehicles, with 100 per cent over-pricing. The ill-fated, all-terrain trucks of Czechoslovak origin are being procured since 1986, wherein 7,000 units, worth more than Rs. 5,000 crores have been purchased repetitively from a vendor-firm, owned by a London-based NRI, instead of buying these from the original equipment manufacturer, which is a Czech company. While, the defence procurement policy of the country forbids all defence purchases, except from the original equipment manufacturers.
The scandal appears to be much deep-rooted with wider ramifications as the retired general, who offered Rs. 14 crores to the Army Chief, General VK Singh, in return for ordering 700 more such trucks has been said to have stated that such graft for securing similar orders had been a routine in past. The vehicles are being routed for an eyewash, through the public sector company, the Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. (BEML) which of late has been charging a profit of Rs. 20 lacs per unit from the army. The BEML’s setting up of a Rs. 260 crore factory, employing 500 personnel in Palakkad, the erstwhile assembly constituency of the Defence Minister AK Antony, when he was the Chief Minister of Kerala, may have been used as a gesture to soften and win his (Defence Minister’s) support for the deal by the BEML’s CMD Mr Natarajan. If it was so, the matter becomes even more grave. The issue of violation of norms, is also said to have been objected by Brigadier IM Singh, from the office of the Master General of Ordinance (MGO) in 2003. But, he was then shifted out of the MGO. The irregularities were also brought to light by a former Congress MP from Karnataka, H Hanmanthappa in August 2009. But the dubious inaction on the part of the Defence Minister till the matter was reported in the media after an interview of the outgoing Army Chief, General VK Singh, who was fed up with the perpetuating irregularities in defence procurements is quite intriguing. Surprisingly, it was of no avail for initiating action in the matter, even when he (General VK Singh) had brought the matter into the notice of the Defence Minister personally. Even, the complaint of irregularities forwarded by Gulam Nabi Azad too was of no avail. The investigations, therefore, should not be confined to the period commencing from 1997 as stated by the government, but the deal be investigated since 1986 when it was originally entered into, or atleast from 1993 when the Czechoslovakia splitted. The matter is serious enough that the trucks worth Rs 25 lakhs were being sold to Indian Army for Rs 70-75 lakhs. It also needs to be investigated, if the similar units could be procured from Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland in the range from Rs. 16-20 lakhs indigenously as is appearing in certain sections of media. There can be no explaination that Why did we opted to loose this opportunity to have self reliance in defence procurement. It could help us develop indigenious technology and help save forex. It is also being alleged that the entire sales proceeds, paid by the BEML to Tatra Sipox in the United Kingdom, were sent to Liechtenstein. Investigation into the further flow of funds from there would expose out all the beneficiaries.
It is more serious that honest defence officers were shunted out of their position whenever they had pointed out the flaws in the deal or in the quality of vehicle. How could any honest officer agree to accept an ‘air cooled’ engine of 70s with Euro I emission norms when ‘liquid cooled’ engines with Euro IV emissions compliant vehicles could be procured for a lesser price. As stated above, Brigadier IM Singh was hounded out of Master General Ordinance branch for raising queries about the dubious role of the BEML in the deal.
Even of late, a deliberate and hyper-active maligning campaign being steered against General, VK Singh, who acted as an honest whistle blower, instead of accepting the graft, is evident of the fact that how powerful are the lobbies of the defence deal brokers. The CBI raids of April 18, on 3 people, linked to the London-based suppliers of the Czech made all-terrain vehicles, should not remain a mere eye-wash, but, lead to ensure punishment for the guilty, how powerful they may be. The apex investigating agency has to be allowed to act freely and if allowed to do so, many heads are bound to roll, as these trucks are being procured since 1986. Investigations and prosecutions in such cases pertaining to national security need more teeth as the CBI has charge-sheeted arms dealers and officers of the Ministry of Defence officials in as many as 18 cases in last 10 years, but, with little success. India is the world’s largest arms importer. The country has imported arms worth over Rs. 60,000 crores between 2007 and 2011 and shall import arms worth over Rs. 5 lac crores ($100 billion) in next 10 years.
The recent decision to buy the French made, medium multi-role combat aircraft, Rafale (the biggest ever order placed for the Indian Air Force till date) has also not gone down well with a number of experts, who allege that by the time these aircrafts would be inducted into the fleet of aircrafts for the Indian Air Force, they might turn partly outdated. The company was on verge of closure, as it had no orders to supply in last 25 years. Already, the fifth generation fighter jets are on offer, and China is already in the advance stages of developing fifth generation stealth aircrafts. Rafale’s competitors are said to have offered fifth generation aircrafts in the follow up of this deal as well, in this bid. To the contrary Rafale has no evidence of working and attaining any break-through in developing the fifth generation fighter aircrafts. Rather it had failed to find a buyer in the last 25 years. What latest state of art technology can be offered by a company, which had no orders in last quarter century and had no enough revenues and resources to invest in R & D to keep afloat in technology development in this era of fast obsolescence of technology.
The problem of irregularities and alleged grafts in defence deals has been perpetuating and incidents are growing ever since Independence. As early as in 1948, the then Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Krishna Menon, who later on became the Defence Minister of the country and played a ‘dubious and doubtful’ role during the Chinese war of 1962, was alleged of having committed irregularities in the Jeep imports then, in the wake of Pak aggression in Jammu & Kashmir. Therefore, in view of the growing incidence of allegations of irregularities and grafts in defence deals, India should invest more funds for indigenous development of defence hardware. If we could develop the best in the category of the Bhrahmos missiles and the Tejas – the light combat air-craft. Why should we not step up our efforts in other directions as well? We would save precious foreign exchange, develop indigenous technology, acquire self reliance and avert such incidents of alleged irregularities and corruption.
Indian defence purchases touch Rs 2 lakh crore in past 3 years
India has spent a whopping amount close to Rs two lakh crore on defence purchases in past three years alone, the government said in Parliament May 8, 2012.
Besides, the UPA government is closely watching all activities of China and Pakistan in the neighbourhood and reviews the threat perception regularly. Required measures have been initiated through development of infrastructure, including rail, roads and forward airfields as well as operational capabilities to achieve desired defence preparedness through accretion and modernisation and deployment of forces to safeguard the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of India.
Both these statements were made by Defence Minister AK Antony during the Question Hour on May 8, the former in the Rajya Sabha and the latter in the Lok Sabha.
The total expenditure on defence purchases by India during the past three years (Revenue and Capital) was Rs.197123.76 crore, Antony said in written reply to NK Singh in the Rajya Sabha. This includes procurement made from Indian private sector, public sector undertakings, ordnance factories and foreign sources. The accounting system does not separately capture data regarding defence purchases made from the Indian private sector.
There has been a major thrust on indigenous manufacture of defence equipment through collaborative efforts of Defence Research and Development Organisation, Defence Public Sector Undertakings, Ordnance Factory Board and Indian Private Sector. Defence industry was opened up for Indian private sector participation in May 2001, with FDI upto 26 per cent subject to licensing. With a view to achieve greater self-reliance in defence production, government has announced a defence production policy in January 2011. Besides, the government has included a categorisation “Buy and Make (Indian)” in the Defence Procurement Procedure in November 2009 to encourage indigenous production in the country.