Yet another case of kickbacks in a defence deal has dented the image of the UPA government which is already battered by the corruption charges. With the surfacing of initial reports of offering bribes for fixing a deal of purchasing 12 helicopters for VVIP uses and subsequently the arrest of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Italian firm Finmeccanica, it is now quite obvious that defence deal in this country cannot be completed without malpractices. Now there is hardly any doubt such sort of defence deal becomes opportunity for many people to mint money. Be it the Bofors guns deal or sub-marines deal of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure or the Tehelka expose which had put a question mark on all defence deals, they highlight the fact that corruption is deeply rooted in the system. The surfacing of reports regarding payment of bribe in chopper deal for VVIP uses has not only put a question mark on the credibility of the Centre but at the same time it has dented the interests of India’s defence establishment. Embattled UPA government has not only ordered a CBI probe into the chopper deal but it has also started measures to cancel the deal for purchase of the helicopters. It is surprising that the Centre did not care to take any measure even after being reported a year back about payment of bribes to a middlemen for the deal. The government woke up from its slumber when Italy government made arrest in this connection. Now the Defence Minister is reassuring the nation that the payment made to AgustaWestland, Finmeccanica’s subsidiary, by the government would be recovered which at present seems very difficult.

Initial findings of the probe in Italy hint at the suspicious role of former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi and his kin in this case. The three Tyagi brothers, whose roles are under scanner, are close relatives of the former IAF chief. It is being said that the same Tyagi brothers had facilitated a meeting between the former IAF chief and the person who is said to be the middleman in the dubious deal. However, former IAF chief has claimed to be innocent in this case and rejected the allegations against him saying that the deal was finally approved by the government after three years of his retirement. It is a serious thing that SP Tyagi happens to be the first IAF chief who is faced with such charges. Time will tell the reality whether the CBI will be able to scoop the facts or not while probing the charges of bribery in the chopper deal, but one thing is quite clear that ahead of Budget session of Parliament, the Opposition has got an opportunity to push the treasury benches on back foot with surfacing of the chopper scam which seems to be similar to over two decade old Bofors scam. Whatever might be the claims of the government, but it is difficult for one to be reassured that the facts in this case would be revealed very soon seeing the trend of the previous probes into defence deals. There has been a lack of transparency in the purchases for armed forces which provides ample scope for middlemen to rig such deals. In many countries of the world there is no ban on the role of a middleman in defence deals but the same has been declared illegal. Now lacunas in this system have become glaring.

Whenever, India strikes a defence deal with a foreign company, its armed force staffers get associated with the concerned company to look into the technical aspects of the products. It is generally seen that the terms and conditions of the deals are tweaked at latter stages on certain grounds. After the surfacing of VVIP chopper scam, it seems that the middlemen are more influential than the diplomats and statesmen. Our policy makers must realize the fact that it is impossible to prevent the middlemen from playing a role in defence deals. Won’t it be pertinent on part of the government to accept the role of the middlemen in purchases for defence establishments so that a transparent system for these purposes could be etched after which it would be easier for anyone to know that who acted as a middleman in a deal and how much brokerage was paid to him for this.

Our policy makers are not only required to focus on the unscrupulous dealings in defence purchases but they are also needed to contemplate if a poor nation like India requires such costly helicopters? The country where the safety of a common citizen is at the mercy of destiny and where it is highly risky for a woman to commute on road, what is the use of purchasing 12 choppers at a whopping cost of Rs 3500 crore for the use of VVIPs. Would it not be better, had this sum of money been spent on providing pure drinking water, education, healthcare facilities and ensuring food safety to the average citizens of the country? At the same time it is also a pertinent question why we could not develop our own capabilities to meet our defence requirements on our own. We are competing with technologically advanced nations in space and missile technologies, but when it comes to build a tank, we fail to accomplish our goal after working for several decades on it. It is really ironical that we lag behind most developed nations in making submarines, jet fighters and sophisticated rifles. Is the indigenous defence industry not being neglected intentionally?

No one can deny the need for India’s defence advancement and making its armed forces equipped with modern arms, ammunitions and jet fighter planes, but is there any serious thinking on the real threat to India’s security from its neighbours. This question bears significance in the wake of the fact that many times the projected defence requirements are found to be exaggerated. This exaggeration prompts the foreign firms engaged in defence production to blow the rumour by the help of their agents that India needed some specific arms or ammunitions earnestly to defend its borders. Amid such rumours it is also found that some very necessary defence deals are pending for long. It’s really bewildering. This problem will be sorted out when a transparent mechanism will be in place for the defence deals and an effective policy will be prepared to make the nation self-dependent in production of defence equipments.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on February 17, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)