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Saturday, 27 October 2012

From Today's Papers - 27 Oct 2012
India seeks details from Italy on Brigadier’s demand for bribe
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 26
India’s plans to replace its ageing fleet of light helicopters with new ones has hit a roadblock and could be delayed by months, if not scrapped, due to the seizure of papers mentioning a Rs 25 crore bribe to an Indian Army Brigadier in January 2010.

The arrest of an Italian-American and the subsequent seizure of documents from his home in Italy today prompted Defence Minister AK Antony to seek details from Italy about the Indian Army officer who allegedly sought a bribe in the deal to buy new helicopters.

The developments have led to several unanswered questions which will need to be tackled by the Ministry of Defence before finalising the purchase. The $720 million deal to buy 197 light-utility helicopters is to be finalised soon. The matter is under the final consideration of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC).

During the search at the Italy home of the Italian-American man by the name of Guido Haschke, a memo was reportedly found that details how an Indian Army Brigadier, who was in charge of the flight trials, allegedly asked for $5 million (Rs 25 crore) in January 2010.

The contract was to purchase 197 light helicopters for the Indian Army’s operations in the mountains. The Agusta-Westland copters - for which Hascke claimed to be working - was ousted in the initial shortlisting leaving Eurocopter produced by EADS and Russian Kamov in the race.

Now the MoD is most likely to put the process on hold and establish if the Brigadier changed the trial reports in lieu of a consideration that he might have accepted from the rivals of Agusta-Westland copters.

As Agusta is out of the race, the needle of suspicion points to the others. Did the Brigadier approach the others copter companies with similar offers, asked a source.

The MoD has asked the Italian Government and concerned agencies there to provide the name of the Brigadier and other relevant documents.

The memo seized from the house of Guido Haschke is part of a preliminary chargesheet filed in a court in Naples, reports from Italy suggest. The documents were reportedly seized by the Italian Police in April this year.

The memo states the Brigadier initiated contact in Bangalore in January 2010 and volunteered information on the contract’s progress. He allegedly gave out details of the deficiencies found in the competitors — Russia’s Kamov, Italian Agusta-Westland and Eurocopter — and asked for money to slant the deal in favour of Agusta-Westland.
No let-up in infiltration from Pak: Shinde
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 26
Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today reiterated the country continues to face a problem of infiltration from Pakistan side.

Five days after stating that Pakistan was helping terrorists enter into India, the Home Minister told correspondents on the sideline of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) raising day parade here that there is information of some sort of infiltration from across the border.

Earlier, during a trip to Jammu and Kashmir, Shinde accused Pakistan of continuing to help militants infiltrate into India, saying there were intelligence inputs about this. According to official figures, last year, militants from across the border made 93 infiltration bids in Jammu and Kashmir, of which, 26 were successful. This year, till July end, there were 139 attempts, of which, 67 were successful.

As for China, the minister said there were no reports about incursion, asserting that troops from the other side come close to the border and stay put for a while before returning. He said Indian troops too are stationed along the Sino-Indian border.

Referring to the current situation, the minister emphasised that as compared to the Sino-Indian War of 1962, India is better prepared. ITBP personnel are deployed on the border from Karakoram Pass in Ladakh (J&K) to Jechap La in Arunachal Pradesh, covering 3,488 km of India-China border and maintain vigil at border outposts at altitudes ranging from 9,000 feet to 18,600 feet.

ITBP Director General Ranjit Sinha on Thursday said, “These [incursions] are perceived (land) violations. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is perceived differently from both the sides. Every day, we send reports. It is not right to say that transgression has increased. The border is disputed.”

Reports with the paramilitary force suggest that such incidents were reported more from Eastern Ladakh including air space violations through helicopters on two or three occasions. However, the ITBP chief emphasised this occurred in the absence of a clear border, as both sides view it differently.

At present, the forces comprises 77,000 personnel, including both men and women. Its strength will increase to 89,000. One of the reasons for increasing the force’s strength is to deploy more troops at the border outposts and also work on a plan for swifter turnaround.

Shinde honoured late constable Bhoop Singh with ‘Police Medal for Gallantry’ (posthumously) for his act of bravery and commitment to duty when he thwarted a naxal attack in Chhattisgarh. He also conferred six President's Police Medals for Distinguished Service and 22 Police Medals for Meritorious Service on ITBP officials.
Army initiative to provide bicycles to schoolgirls
GUWAHATI: The army has come forward to promote education among girl students in rural areas of the state. The Red Horns Division of the army distributed bicycles to the girl students of Lakhipur area of Goalpara district to help them reach schools and pursue education.

An army official said under Operation Sadbhavana, an initiative of the Indian Army to promote communal harmony and foster civil-military ties, 25 bicycles were given to the girl students who face problem in commuting to schools from their houses due to lack of proper transport facility.

"Most of these girls have to walk a long distance to reach schools because of financial problems and poor transportation connectivity in the area. We hope that the bicycles will be of great help to them," the army official said.

A computer centre was also opened at Women Empowerment Centre, Lakhipur, by the army.

The Kokrajhar unit of the Red Horns Division also provided sewing machines to unemployed women of the district to help them improve their financial condition. Altogether 40 women from backward areas of the district were provided with sewing machines. Army officials said these women were skilled but lacked financial resources to procure sewing machines. "We believe the sewing machines will help the women in improving their financial condition," an army official said.
Army says no rules violated in response to defence ministry's audit report
New Delhi, Oct.24 (ANI): The Indian Army, contesting the reported loss of Rs.100 crore in procurements, has said that no rules were violated.

Responding to a Ministry of Defence audit report, which questioned the way army commanders were spending money for urgent procurement, it said that all announcements on procurements were done as per established guidelines.

The defence ministry's audit has found 55 cases where procurements were made without consulting centralised agencies.

The ministry's scanner is on a questionable expenditure of Rs.125 crore, which has prompted Defence Minister A.K. Antony to order the imposition of strict checks and balances.

The Defence Ministry had earlier ordered the Controller of Defence Accounts (CDA) to audit expenses made by army commanders under their special financial powers of up to Rs.125 crore to procure urgently-required items for troops.

The audit report has assessed 55 transactions made by various army commands between the years 2009 and 2011 when present Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh was heading the Kolkata-based Eastern Command.

The report suggests that certain equipment, including Chinese communication equipment, had been purchased from grey market.

Mismanagement in milk procurement in Northern Command has also been suggested by the report.

It also mentions the procurement of binoculars by the Eastern Command from a foreign vendor when the same were available at lower prices in the Indian market.

Commanders of the army's northern and eastern commands have the authority to sanction procurement expenditure of around Rs.125 crore and Rs. 50 crore respectively. The other four commands can sanction expenditure upto Rs.10 crore each.

The internal audit report has so far claimed a loss of around Rs.30 crore in procurement of special packaged milk in the Northern Command.

The report has also suggested a review of the special financial powers of army commanders and other officials. (ANI)
India seeks response from Italy on bribery charge in chopper deal
NEW DELHI: The government is asking Italy for an early response on alleged irregularities, including involvement of middlemen, in the 2010 deal for the purchase of a dozen helicopters for the use of its VVIPs. It is also seeking information about a brigadier who probably demanded a bribe in 2010 to fix another helicopter deal.

"In response to media reports alleging irregularities in the contract for 12 helicopters from AugustaWestland for VVIP use, the ministry of defence has once again taken up the matter with the Italian government through the ministry of external affairs and has asked for an early response on the issue," a defence ministry statement said.

"The Italian government has been requested to provide details of the existence, if any, of any middlemen or any individual or Indian entity in the above mentioned contract," it added.

According to an ongoing investigation in Italy, there were indications that almost Rs 350 crore worth of kickbacks may have been paid for the VVIP helicopter deal signed for the Indian Air Force. The arrest of a man in Switzerland last week in connection with the deal and the filing of a charge-sheet in an Italian court have all brought back focus on the allegations.

A preliminary charge-sheet filed in a Naples court has given details of an alleged demand for bribe by a brigadier to influence another deal, for 197 light utility helicopters. According to documents seized from the middleman Guido Haschke, the brigadier, who was in charge of flight trials of the deal, had demanded $5 million (approximately Rs 25 crore) in January 2010, just before the trials were to begin.

"The MoD has asked the Italian government and concerned agencies there through MEA to provide the name and relevant documents relating to the alleged involvement of a brigadier in the ongoing process for the acquisition of 197 light utility helicopters for the Indian Army," the defence ministry statement said.

It reiterated that the ministry will take "strong action" against the offenders detected through this probe.

A senior defence ministry source said they had written three-four times to the Indian embassy in Rome in the past. In all their responses, the embassy said the Italian government and prosecution agency were not willing to part with any evidence. Indian embassy's own sources couldn't give any significant information to show bribe payment, he said.

"Earlier this week, the AugustaWestland CEO met the Indian ambassador to assure that there were no middlemen and bribery involved in the VVIP deal," the source said. "But that is not enough, we want to be sure on our own terms," he added. If preliminary evidence reaches the defence ministry, government wouldn't hesitate to cancel the VVIP helicopter deal, he said.
Army officer found dead at home in Jammu
JAMMU: An Army officer has been found dead at his official residence at Nagrota-based 16 Corps headquarters on the city’s outskirts. Lt Col Madukar Singh Chouhan (42), was found lying unconscious in his room on Thursday and taken to a hospital where he was declared brought dead, the police said. His body had been taken to GMC hospital for post-mortem to ascertain the cause of his death, they said. PRO Defence, Col R P Palta, said the officer died of some illness.
Defence tutorial
In the Westminster system of government, Cabinet ministers are auto­nomous, virtually a law unto themselves, and serve at the pleasure of the Prime Mi­nister.

If the Prime Mi­nister is a strong, elected leader, the fear of rubbing him the wrong way and consequently being thrown out of the Cabinet or demoted is enough reason to induce discipline.

If, on the other hand, India finds itself stuck in a condition for the last eight years of an unelected and unelectable person as Prime Minister then we have the government turning into a farce if not circus, as is the case these days.

With Manmohan Singh deriving his political legitimacy from his party chief, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who in turn waits with trepidation for the designated dynast, Rahul Gandhi, to show signs of political acumen and toughness to justify her installing him in the hot seat, the government has subsided to a big tent show with different rings and new acts introduced every now and then.

There is Sonia Gandhi’s and, in the personalised politics of the day, Congress Party’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s financial legerdemain hogging the limelight in one ring, Sharad Pawar’s Lavasa “hill station” antics in the next and Salman Khurshid’s miracles involving the disabled in the third ring, and the people cannot but be appalled with the brazenness of these schemes.

A political cipher of a Prime Minister, however, looks on as anarchy rules even in the Cabinet, with ministers depending on their interest, or lack thereof, ideological bent and layman’s grasp of issues but mainly the political heft each carries, mostly marring the ministries they are given charge of.

Politicians leading ministries in the business of delivering government goodies and directly impacting the lives of people — ministries of he­alth, agriculture, fo­od, public distribution system, fertiliser, petroleum, coal, roads and highways, railways, etc. — can apply their common sense and gut instincts to push programmes they can pr­oudly claim at the hustings as their own handiwork.

Promoting their personal projects can, however, mean working against the Prime Mi­nister’s national agenda, resulting in paralysis of the government.

Then there’s the home ministry, much prized by politicians, mainly because the appointee commands various coercive arms of the state — intelligence bureau, Cen­­tral Bureau of In­vestigation — which can be marshalled to build dossiers on friends and foes alike, and that’s always helpful.

It keeps Mulayam Singh and Mayawati in line and ensures Congress’ ex­ten­ded stay in power. Then there are departments of government that are somewhat technical in nature — the several economic ministries and defence, where basic instincts have to be backed by specialised knowledge.

It has been the misfortune of this country, sta­r­ting with V.K. Krishna Menon in the late 1950s, to have strong-minded politicians as defence ministers who, like the proverbial tail, have mercilessly wagged the dog, sometimes reducing the Indian armed forces to a pitiful state.

On the 50th anniversary of the 1962 war debacle, the press is full of Kri­shna Menon’s misdoings. Lucky, his successors were not shown up by the Chinese.

We have had some strange de­fe­nce ministers though and can recall the te­nure of the redoubtable Yadav supremo, who was anything but “mula­yam” in reducing the ministry to a translation bureau.

For the last eight years, the country has had the former Kerala chief minister, A.K. Antony, minding natio­nal defence.

His resolve to clean up the military procurement process and rid the process of meddlesome middlemen spreading corruption, like bad water does dy­sentery, was ambitious.

A man of probity, he was brought in to erase the Bofors taint off the Congress. Ironically, he will be seen as having presided over defence scams (Augusta-West­land VIP helicopters, etc.) to complement other scams elsewhere in the UPA government.

His policy of indiscriminate black-listing of vendor companies led to small players with good products — for example, Singapore Kinetics Ltd. with its light howitzer that in rigorous testing beat the competition — being ousted from the bidding process, and big players escaping the sieve altogether.

Such as a supplier country that secures very large contracts, because it is seriously rumoured, it has perfected the art of channelling huge payoffs to the political apex — the same modus operandi used in Bofors, which clears deals.

That’s the secret that other countries are cottoning on to. In the event, Mr Antony seems more like the clueless chowkidar with a single-barrelled gun by his side at the bank entrance to reassure customers, while robbers make off with the loot from an open vault accessed from an unlatched back door.

Worse, Mr Antony seems to place his ideological antipathies above national security.

His opposition to foreign bases has negatived any progress on formally accepting the Agalega North and South Islands offered by the Mauritius government which, if secured for the Indian Navy and Air Force, would immeasurably extend India’s strategic reach in the Indian Ocean.

Still worse is the defence minister repeating the rhetorically high-sounding but, in practical military terms, inordinately foolish injunction to the armed forces to “defend every inch of Indian territory”.

On October 18, it took the form of a declaration concerning the China border infrastructure, to wit, “We are now capable of defending every inch of our country”.

Except in the lexicon of military-wise ignorant politicians, “every inch” quite literally means every inch, which in actual military operations amounts to a bad joke.

May be Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh can impart a half-hour tutorial to his minister, gently informing him of the vagaries attending on the smallest military action.

Mr Antony can ask for a briefing from Revenue Intelligence, albeit belatedly, on how the commission-bribery system works, so his innocence, which in politics is a liability, does not do his own standing more harm.

Hopefully, it can set a precedent of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) educating the generalist civil servants as well, because the “every inch” rhetorical nonsense can backfire in crisis with the people expecting zero loss of ground in all hostilities which, as Gen. J.N. Ch­a­u­dhri supposedly told Lal Bahadur Shastri wh­en the Prime Minister first used that phrase during the 1965 War, he couldn’t guarantee.

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