Reliance Naval & Engineering Ltd. (RNEL) has sought a probe by the CBI and the CVC into a complaint it has lodged with the Defence Ministry alleging that a senior Indian Navy officer is favouring its business rival, Larsen & Toubro, in big-ticket defence deals.
Sources told IANS that, in its complaint, RNEL has alleged that the naval officer, whose son is employed with the L&T Defence at its Pune unit, passed on sensitive information to L&T pertaining to the prestigious Rs 20,000 crore (almost $3 billion) project to construct four warships for the Indian Navy.
While the Defence Ministry has reportedly initiated an internal inquiry on the complaint, RNEL has now sought a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Central Vigilance Commission into the matter, the sources said.
RNEL’s complaint reportedly mentions Vice Admiral D. Deshpande who, it has alleged, is acting virtually as “an agent” of L&T and is passing on vital information pertaining to the sensitive defence projects to the company.
The complaint also alleged that the Vice Admiral’s son was going to pursue an MBA degree that would be paid for and “sponsored by L&T”.
According to a media report, Deshpande has clarified his position in the matter to the Defence Ministry top brass, details of which are not available.
In Mumbai, L&T’s Whole Time Director J.D. Patil rejected the contentions made in the RNEL complaint and said that it was for the Defence Ministry to respond to such allegations.
On the employment of Vice Admiral Deshpande’s son in L&T Defence, he said around 80 percent staff comprise retired defence personnel for the technical expertise they possess.
“Our recruitment processes are very stringent and based purely on merits, not any other consideration, and our organisational ethos don’t permit such things,” Patil told IANS.
While the matter is under a probe, the warships project is in a limbo since 2017 when RNEL and L&T Defence were shortlisted by the Defence Ministry for award of the contract.
To be awarded under the “Make In India” initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it would be the biggest warship project incorporating Landing Platform Docks for transporting troops, equipments, tanks and fighter choppers across the seas.
While the RNEL has joined hands with the France’s Naval Group, L&T Defence has roped in Spain’s Navantia Group for the mega-project, with the foreign partners contributing by way of design and technology for the ships to be constructed in an Indian shipbuilding yard.
Incidentally, RNEL has contended that there is a move to split the project into two by awarding a couple of ships to L&T Defence, which it contends would be “detrimental to the interest of the country” and Indian Navy.
Until clarity emerges on the charges by RNEL against L&T Defence, the next crucial step in the procurement process — opening the commercial bids to determine the final winner from among the two contenders — will hang fire indefinitely, and entail further delays to the time-bound project, the sources said.