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Feb 14, 2013 at 05:26pm IST

Bribes are still a reality in India's defence deals: Surya Gangadharan

CNN-IBN's Surya Gangadharan joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the Agusta Westland chopper deal.

Q. Is corruption a part of defence deals in India? Asked by: Priya

Bribes are still a reality in India's defence deals: Surya Gangadharan

CNN-IBN's Surya Gangadharan joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the Agusta Westland chopper deal.

A. Corruption does seem to dog defence deals in this country. Beginning with Bofors 30 years ago to today's helicopter deal. I think it's because we have deviated from a practice which is the norm worldwide, having agents whom we deride as "middlemen". Agents bring suppliers and customers together, they have specialised knowledge of the market and what systems/equipment would be appropriate, whom to go to etc etc. We've driven those people out of the market and let the crooks and conman take over.

Q. So, as a citizen of India, I understood that there is no vertical which is corruption free. I used to have some respect to the armed forces, but that has also been put to rest. How optimistic are you on an India free of all or most of these issues? Asked by: Karthik

A. No country is free of corruption. Man is that innovative being who will always seek to short circuit if he senses a profit to be made. We can only try and minimise it by making procurement as transparent as possible, legalise the role of middlemen and lobbies, professionalise the men in govt responsible for procurement. Right now people with little domain knowledge do it

Q. CBI has not been able to crack even one of the 39 defence probes handed to them since 2004. What can we expect in this case? Asked by: RK

A. The CBI needs to work under the Supreme Court's jurisdiction but that's only a short term solution. We need to insulate all law enforcement agencies from political interference. Unfortunately our politicians don't want that

Q. Is it impossible to do defence deals in India without middlemen? Asked by: DK

A. The middlemen have been driven underground because of our ban on them. The crooks and conmen have taken over and many of them are sitting in our legislatures. Then there are our DPSUS, which because they are govt entities, can buy directly from foreign vendors. They do little technology transfer or indigenisation and sell the equipment with a huge markup. We need to legalise middlemen, then procurement business becomes more transparent.

Q. What a waste for a poor country like India. Asked by: rajeev

A. Waste of what? Money for the VVIP helicopters? I have no doubt we need VVIP helicopters but wonder if we needed such an expensive helicopter which was rejected by the White House because it was too expensive. It reinforces the impression of a powerful people in India, tying up with a powerful foreign vendor for a powerful helicopter.

Q. This should not be seen as a blot to the services. Why is every one only talking about the Chief and not the other involved people. If I repeat if there are some service people involved the money they got is a drop in the ocean. Where has the major portion of the bribe gone? Asked by: Arun

A. That's what hopefully the CBI probe will determine although given its record one doubts anything will emerge. I frankly doubt if service people made any money. More likely others made the money. The point is our procurement system is civilian dominated. The defence secretary heads the procurement board, all the services do is trial and evaluate the equipment and indicate what fits the qualitative requirements. The bureaucrat because of his proximity to the politician can do work the system to help his politician mentor.

Q. As per your rich experience, please suggest what type of punishment should be given to the culprits? Asked by: Bibhuti

A. Their property equivalent to the value of their bribe should be confiscated and auctioned!

Q. Refer to the Tehelka case. The service officers who were accused were court martialed and thrown out, the bureaucrats were suspended and later reinstated (I believe they are paid half their emoluments in the suspension period) and of course the politicians went scot free. Do you think that the same route would be followed in this case and the Air Chief made a fall guy along with some other service personnel? Asked by: Anonymous

A. I doubt the CBI investigation will for if they find any hint of criminal wrongdoing higher up the food chain. In the current controversy, all the focus is on the former air chief, nobody's talking of the role of the defence secretary at that time, or the role of the Home Min/Special Protection Group.

Q. Don't you think that the media should stop being judgmental in the Chief. Cant they try and get to all the persons involved and judge their role and the benefits they got? Asked by: AKS

A. Some of the media is judgmental not all. Certainly not ours. Then again we are not a police agency, don't have the expertise or resources to investigate, nor should we for that's not our job.

Q. Are Bribes still a reality in India's defence deals? Asked by: Tiger

A. Unfortunately, it seems so.

Q. A sad day for the Defence Sevices. This would delay in the upgradation program leading to our being unprepared. Do you think that we would get over it? Asked by: AKS

A. If wrongdoing is proved in the helicopter deal, then AK Antony has said the deal will be cancelled. Important to note that the VVIP helicopter is not a purely military procurement. Some of the helicopters will also be used by the air force for troop/cargo transport. Yes it could setback procurement as the firm could be blacklisted and banned from bidding for future contracts.

Q. Why does the media not understand the procurement procedure and the role the Chief have in influencing the finalisation? Asked by: Arun

A. Some of the media are not reading enough. The Defence Procurement Procedures are quite clear about the process. But in the rush to be first with the news, TV journos often don't have enough time to get their facts right.

Q. Who took the decisions that eventually led to Agusta Westland getting the contract? Asked by: JJ

A. The UPA govt took the decision, I think Pranab Mukherjee was the defence minister at that time.

Q. Is the 2010 Italian VVIP chopper deal another Bofors in the making? Asked by: Sunil

A. It could be for the UPA. All the ingredients are there, money, helicopters, shady businessmen and Italians!

Q. Sir, Can you give a chronology of this controversy? Asked by: Harry

A. Check IBNLive we have it there.

Q. My query is whether this controversy would not affect the other acquisition that are in the pipe line? Asked by: AKS

A. If Agusta Westland is found guilty the deal could be scrapped, Antony has already warned. It could even see Agusta Westland blacklisted. So in that sense Agusta Westland cannot bid for future Indian contracts. That narrows our own list of foreign vendors we can do business with, That's bad.

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