New Delhi: While coming down hard on the AgustaWestland helicopter deal, a Comptroller and Auditor General report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday claimed that the Indian Air Force (IAF) faced operational disadvantage on account of using ageing helicopters as the acquisition process for getting new flying machines was inordinately delayed. The CAG report claimed that AgustaWestland helicopter acquisition had to resort to several deviations from the laid down procedures.
The CAG report pointed out that field evaluation trials were conducted abroad on representative helicopters and not on the actual machines as the aircraft was at that time in its developmental stage. The recommendations given by the then Chief of the Air Staff SP Tyagi in October 2007 to conduct field evaluation trials abroad lacked justification, according to the report.
In this context, the CAG has referred to the rejection of the proposal for conducting trials outside the country twice earlier by Defence Ministry. The report noted that the trials should have been held in India since the helicopters to be procured were to be operated within the country.
The Defence Procurement Board (DPB), headed by the then Defence Secretary, had returned the IAF file recommending the trials to be held in foreign countries. However, the IAF continued to insist on holding the trials outside the country, prompting the DPB to clear the proposal.
After that, Defence Minister AK Antony also raised objections over the trials being held outside the country but gave his consent later on the continued insistence of the IAF. The trials of AgustaWestland helicopter were carried out in the UK.
Antony and the Ministry had been of the view that operational conditions in the UK and the US could not match those in India which included hot deserts, humid plains and high altitude areas such as the Siachen Glacier and the Ladakh region.
Even with the revision of Staff Qualitative Requirement the acquisition process led to a single vendor situation in 2010 and AgustaWestland was selected, the report added. The benchmark adopted by Contract Negotiation Committee was unreasonably high compared to the offered cost. Hence they provided no realistic basis for obtaining an assurance about the reasonableness of cost of procurement of the helicopters. The was no real basis for procuring AgustaWestland helicopters if one looks at the cost, the report added.
The CBI is also investigating corruption allegations in the Rs 3,600 crore deal after the arrest of two former CEOs of Finmeccanica and AgustaWestland in Italy.
The trials of AgustaWestland helicopter were carried out in the UK while the Sikorsky chopper was tested in the US from January 16, 2008 to February 2008.
India has already received three of the 12 helicopters for which the deal was struck in 2010 for Rs 3,600 crore. After the scam broke out, Antony had said that India can "get its money back even at this stage".
He had said, "If the Indian government paid any amount of the money, as per the provisions of the integrity pact, we can get back the entire money we paid to the vendor."