‘With UPA in office, VIP copter specs changed’
‘CBI Details How PMO, MoD, SPG, IAF Changed Stands’
New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation 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 air force 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, Prime Minister’s Office and Air Force headquarters, the 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, sent by the PMO, were seen by then Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi on March 7, 2005. “Thus, the 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 agency 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 (FET) conducted in 2002, but order was not
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
placed then,” says CBI.
CBI sources say they will now probe the role of PMO, SPG and MoD officials, since Tyagi and Gujral have already been chargesheeted.
Interestingly, CBI has found during probe 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 (DASR) 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’.
CBI says helicopter having two engines was eligible and helicopter having more than two engines or one engine were not eligible to participate in the bids.
“However, by adding the word ‘at least’ before ‘twin engined’, the EH-101 (subsequently known as AW-101) was dishonestly and fraudulently made eligible,” says the CBI chargesheet.