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Feb 15, 2013 at 10:06am IST

AgustaWestland chopper deal: UPA factsheet draws Pranab into the row

New Delhi: The UPA government's factsheet could prove to be more embarrassing for itself and President Pranab Mukherjee during whose stint as the defence minister the AgustaWestland deal was cleared. The Defence Ministry's factsheet categorically states that the tender was finalised in 2005 - a time when President Pranab was the defence minister, SP Tyagi was Air Force Chief, BV Wanchoo was SPG Chief and MK Narayanan was the national security advisor.

But the CBI seeking to question President Pranab and the two governors seems highly unlikely as they enjoy Constitutional immunity. Apart from the President, the other two decision-makers continue to enjoy high office. The SPG chief at the time Bharat Vir Wanchoo is now the Governor of Goa. MK Narayanan, who was the NSA at the time, is now the Governor of West Bengal. Both by virtue of their governor-status enjoy immunity under the constitutional rules.

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The Congress in its factsheet has also put the blame on NDA. The Congress has alleged that in 2003, the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra wrote to the then defence secretary that the existing rules were unfair as it allowed only single bidding and that the qualifying height of the choppers should be reduced from 18,000 feet to at least 14,000 feet.

The factsheet says in the initial tender, only Eurocopter was found eligible. In 2003, Brajesh Mishra met the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, urging him to change the norms to include more bidders. Altitude requirements were brought down from 6,000 to 4,500 metres after that meeting.

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Later Brajesh Mishra wrote to the Air Chief Marshal suggesting consultations with the defence secretary. After the UPA came to power, the factsheet says IAF, SPG, NSA and Defence Ministry held consultations and changes in requirements were incorporated.

After the new tender, three companies responded, out of which AgustaWestland was selected. The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the deal on January 18, 2010.

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Surprisingly BJP leader Jaswant Singh, a member of the then Vajpayee cabinet, seemed to be endorse Brajesh Mishra's act. But an alarmed BJP, which wants to take on the Congress in the Budget Session was quick to distance itself from Jaswant Singh's comments.

Even as the Congress dragged Brajesh Mishra into the raging controversy, it remained silent on many questions it faces.

- The issue came up first a year ago. Why did Defence Minister AK Antony take so long to order a probe?

- Why did Antony's statement in Parliament make false assurances?

- The SPG specified requirements were fulfilled by many other firms. Why was AgustaWestland chosen when it was costlier?