‘With UPA in govt, VVIP copter specs changed’

Ex-Vice Mar­shal Fudged Docs: CBI Chargesheet

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES NATION - Neeraj.Chauhan @times­group.com

New Delhi: The CBI has for the first time brought on record how soon af­ter the UPA gov­ern­ment came to power in 2004, PMO, SPG, Air Force and MoD of­fi­cials quickly agreed to al­ter the manda­tory ser­vice ceil­ing for VVIP chop­pers ben­e­fit­ting Au­gus­taWest­land.

CBI, in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Rs 3,726 crore scam, says these au­thor­i­ties to­gether changed the ser­vice ceil­ing from 6,000 me­tres to 4,500 me­tres. The agency says that the In­dian Air Force, which had pre­vi­ously claimed that the Euro­copter Su­per Puma C 225 chop­per was used by 31 heads of state and that 6,000-me­tre ceil­ing was an op­er­a­tional ne­ces­sity, changed its po­si­tion.

In 2005, the IAF jus­ti­fied the lower cabin height and re­duced ser­vice ceil­ing say­ing it should con­form to pa­ram­e­ters of ex­ist­ing MI-8. Even Air Mar­shal (re­tired) J S Gu­jral, named as ac­cused in CBI chargesheet, had ear­lier jus­ti­fied the low cabin height of EC-225.

The IAF main­tained till Novem­ber 5, 2004 that it will not be fea­si­ble to re­duce the ser­vice ceil­ing to 4,500 me­ters. Few days later, on Novem­ber 8, 2004, in a meet­ing at­tended by of­fi­cers of min­istry of de­fence, Spe­cial Pro­tec­tion Group, PMO and Air Force head­quar­ters, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of PMO men­tioned that the ear­lier VVIP move­ments had not ex­ceeded 4500 me­ters and hence the rel­e­vance of 6000 me­ters as the ser­vice ceil­ing was not clear, says the CBI chargesheet. Sub­se­quently, the SPG joined the air force and claimed in a let­ter to PMO that EH-101 (now AW-101, AgustaWest­land he­li­copter) was a bet­ter he­li­copter.

CBI says that in the March 2005 meet­ing, chaired by then Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor, J S Gu­jral (then deputy chief of air staff) didn’t raise ob­jec­tion to re­duc­ing the ser­vice ceil­ing. “On the con­trary, in pur­suance of the crim­i­nal con­spir­acy, Gu­jral also agreed that the op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments (ORs) should broadly con­form to the pa­ram­e­ters of MI-8 he­li­copters,” says the chargesheet.

The min­utes of this meet­ing, were seen by then Air Chief Mar­shal S P Tyagi on March 7, 2005. “Thus, IAF un­der S P Tyagi for the first time con­ceded to re­duce the ser­vice ceil­ing by di­lut­ing their hith­erto con­sis­tent stand that ser­vice ceil­ing of 6,000 me­ters is an in­escapable op­er­a­tional ne­ces­sity,” the CBI adds. The same day, a meet­ing was chaired by Gu­jral, in which fi­nal de­ci­sion was taken to re­duce the ser­vice ceil­ing to 4500 me­ters and new manda­tory ORs with re­gard to cabin height of he­li­copter was in­tro­duced and the same was fixed at 180 cm. Within four days, on March 11, 2005, S P Tyagi ap­proved the re­vised ORs by sign­ing the file. “The re­duc­tion en­abled M/s AgustaWest­land to bid whereas in­crease in cabin height elim­i­nated EC-225 which had lesser cabin height from 145 cm ta­per­ing to 139 cm at the rear, in­spite of the fact that EC-225 was cleared in field eval­u­a­tion trial con­ducted in 2002, but or­der was not placed then,” says CBI. CBI sources say they will now probe the role of PMO, SPG and MoD of­fi­cials, since Tyagi and Gu­jral have been chargesheeted.

CBI has found that J S Gu­jral fudged cru­cial notes re­lated to re­vised ORs and in­serted words to favour AgustaWest­land. Dur­ing fol­low-up meet­ing taken by the de­fence sec­re­tary on April 1, 2005, Direc­tor of Air Staff Re­quire­ments Group Cap­tain Sud­hir Verma had men­tioned ‘Nil’ in re­marks col­umn for the OR “he­li­copter should be twin en­gined”. CBI says J S Gu­jral made some re­marks be­low the note of Air Vice Mar­shal K K No­hwar and sent the file to the chief of air staff, “smeared/cov­ered the same with whitener fluid”.

He did this to make changes in the note put up by Sud­hir Verma. Later, Gu­jral added the word “at least” be­fore the words ‘twin en­gined’ in re­spect to ‘heptr should be twin en­gined’.

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