Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Wednesday took on Congress in Parliament in a fierce debate on the AgustaWestland chopper deal controversy. Parrikar’s statement caused an uproar in opposition benches with the Congress staging a walk out from Rajya Sabha. Through the day, Rajya Sabha saw a heated debate with BJP and Congress leaders accusing each other’s governments of wrongdoing.
Apart from Parrikar, AK Antony (former Defence Minister), Subramanian Swamy, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Sharad Yadav, Bhupender Yadav and Abhishek Manu Sanghvi spoke extensively on the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam, causing an uproar in Parliament.
Manohar Parrikar: Mr Abhishek Manu Singhvi put up UPA’s case very strongly earlier in the day. He was so convincing that for some time even I bought his arguments. But, when the brief is very weak, even the best advocate can’t win the case.
I remembered an Akbar-Birbal story. When Akbar’s golden spoon was stolen, Birbal gave a bamboo stick to all servants and told them that the one who stole golden spoon will be caught because his bamboo stick will grow overnight. The thief, out of fear, cut his bamboo stick and was thus caught.
They (UPA) have cut all their bamboos in their argument. They (UPA) favoured a particular vendor. They created a single vendor situation. The procurement process was violated. A number of steps were taken by the UPA government from 2005 onwards that resulted in the acquisition of AW helicopters. These steps then became a subject of CAG scrutiny. AK Antony himself admitted that there was corruption in the deal. Sadly, this controversy has also damaged India’s global image.
Many crucial aspects of defence procurement were ignored. AgustaWestland helicopters were still in development stages. Trials were not conducted on chopper bought by India but another one as it was still at development stage.
CAG report says that the allowed offsets were not in line with DPP. Country wants to know as to who instigated, supported & benefited from corruption. We can’t let this pass. The CAG report states clearly that more price was paid than the best market price available for the helicopters.
It appears an “invisible hand” was guiding the action or inaction of CBI and ED, says the Defence Minister.
Inquiry will focus on roles of those named in the judgement of Italian court, added Parrikar.
AK Antony: This company is corrupt, please don’t involve them in any Make in India projects. You will repent, you will not be able to succeed. Blacklist this company. Complete the investigation and punish the guilty.
Our government (UPA) made it clear from day 1 that there should not be any compromise in the defence sector. There should be no corruption. We black listed 6 companies. We proved India will not tolerate corruption – that was our message. There has been a conscious effort by UPA government in eliminating corruption in defence procurement.
Decision to change height from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres was made by PMO in 2003 – it was by your government. This decision to change the height was taken by your government, don’t put that on us. In February 2014 we started the blacklisting process.
Ahmed Patel: I didn’t leave my home, my old mother, to come and do corruption. We agree that CAG’s report should be taken seriously. “CAG should not be used for political bickering. It should be used to take remedial measures.” This is something that the former CM of Gujarat and the present Prime Minister of the country has said.
I will resign if it is proven that I am involved in any wrongdoing. I agree that there should be investigation in the chopper scam. Where there is smoke there is fire. The investigation was started by the UPA government. First conduct a proper investigation, then name people. I repeat, I will resign if I am proven guilty. Who will punish those who malign others? Sonia Gandhi ji, Manmohan Singh, AK Antony are being targeted and maligned. Don’t create an atmosphere that Congress is corrupt. Just make sure that there is speedy investigation in the matter and make sure that the truth is known to all. You (BJP) and your leaders should stop making baseless allegations.
What Anand Sharma said: There is no evidence against Sonia Gandhi. What has been said here, attributing motives, insinuations, innuendos is without any foundation. It is malicious & motivated. We know their (NDA government’s) agenda and we are determined to fight and expose that agenda. This is a democracy. Nations are not governed with irresponsibility but with maturity, correctness & wisdom.
I have no hesitation to say that it is travesty of truth, reputations of many are being questioned. Defence procurement process is a long, complex one, we all know that. New government had to take cognizance of what the previous govt was doing, it is a continuous process. Falsehood is being propagated, people are being misled on purpose.
What Subramanian Swamy said: It is well known that corruption has taken place. It is a lie to say that NDA government was the one to change specification of height (of the helicopters). You (UPA government) had already started the process that everybody else is eliminated and only one company is chosen. Which was that authority above Mr AK Antony who overruled him? I am sure it was not Mr. Manmohan Singh. Public is being misled by fake and false news, this is a serious part of corruption. Media involvement should be probed.
Sharad Yadav of the JD(U) questioned the rationale of debating the issue in Parliament. “There are so many more important issues going on in the nation. They are the ones that should be discussed in the House. Why are you not letting Parltiamen function? Why is this an issue when you have all the agencies to your behest?” Yadav asked.
Replying to the allegations made by BJP’s Bhupender Yadav, Congress’ Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “I don’t think you can intimidate us so easily. Shaakhon se tut jaye woh patte nahi hai hum, in andhiyon se keh de ki apni aukaat mein rahe. We will damage the legal system and democracy if we continue like this. We must avoid hysteria.”
“Here is an insecure ruling party trying to foist a charge of corruption on persons unconnected. Nobody is saying that everything is hunky dory in the deal. Obviously something was wrong. We need more facts than falsehood, more sense than sensation, more details than diversion,” Singhvi said.
“We are relying on interpretations and miscalculations of the Italian court of judgement. That is the totality of a big storm in a teacup,” Singhvi said. “How can you have hypocrisy & double standards just because you have hatred towards certain names? Many references to “APs” in the judgment, Gujarat CM is also AP,” he said. Singhvi went on to claim that the UPA government recovered more money than it paid in the VVIP Chopper deal after cancelling it and fining Agusta.
Starting the debate, BJP’s Bhupender Yadav said, “This debate and discussion is important. Corruption had become so rampant in the system that it was eating the system up like termite. This debate is a serious matter because it was for the armed forces of the country that the deal was supposed to be struck.”
“In 1999, Mi-8 helicopters were to be replaced. They were ageing and they should have been replaced. It was decided that helicopters that can fly at heights of 6,000 metre should be acquired. However, in 2005 operational requirement, request for proposal and service qualitative requirement were changed by the UPA government. They restricted competition by mandating a new cabin height for the helicopters and reducing the height for flying to 4,500 metre. Only AgustaWestland was eligible under the changed conditions. You (UPA) made the changes in the conditions and allowed a single vendor clearance,” Yadav said.
Yadav went on to read extensively from a CAG report on the VVIP chopper scam, elaborating on how the UPA government had changed several parameters to ‘favour’ AgustaWestland. “According to CAG, you (UPA government) paid six times more for the chopper deal,” he said.
“We have to make sure that the defence forces are self-reliant. We have to focus on indigensiation. We need to ensure that those who took bribes in the AgustaWestland deal should be punished,” Yadav concluded.
The deal for the VVIP choppers went off track in 2013 when Italy arrested the head of Finmeccanica, which owns AgustaWestland, for paying bribes to secure the deal.
An Italian court, which convicted AgustaWestland chief Giuseppe Orsi, had reportedly described how the firm paid bribes to top Congress leaders to bag the Rs 3,600 crore deal.
AgustaWestland was not blacklisted during the UPA rule, top Modi government sources had recently claimed, asserting it was the NDA dispensation which had put on hold all acquisition proposals with the VVIP chopper scam-tainted firm.
A few days back Parrikar challenged the Congress to show the order by the UPA government confirming the blacklisting of AgustaWestland. “I challenge the Congress to show the UPA government’s order blacklisting the AgustaWestland company. Let them reply first why it was not banned. It was during our (NDA) government that we banned it,” he said.
“Those who received kickbacks will not leave behind the proof for us to prosecute them, but we will have to prove it (that kickbacks were received),” he said.
“It is for us to prove everything now. Since the issue would be placed in Parliament, I would not like to speak in detail to media,” the Defence Minister further said.
Amidst the raging AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal controversy, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said that he is always targeted. “I am always being targeted, I am happy to be targeted,” Gandhi said outside the Parliament.
Gandhi was asked about BJP MP Kirit Somaiya’s letter to ED and CBI asking them to check Gandhi’s links with a real estate developer allegedly involved in the CWG scam and also the alleged connections of his political aide with a middleman in the AgustaWestland deal.
Last week Congress President Sonia Gandhi rejected as “baseless” allegations linking her and party leaders to bribes in the AgustaWestland chopper deal and said she is not “afraid” of being “cornered” on the issue.
She asked the government what it has been doing in power for the last two years on the issue and demanded that the ongoing inquiry be completed impartially.
“I am not afraid of anyone cornering me as there is no basis to that. All the accusations they are throwing at us are false,” Gandhi said.
(With inputs from Agencies)