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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

From Today's Papers - 20 Feb 2013



Open to JPC probe into helicopter scam: Govt

Tribune News Service


New Delhi, February 19

Faced with an impending offensive from the Opposition on the VVIP helicopter scam in Parliament, the government today asserted it was open to inquiry by a Joint Parliamentary Committee and that it was willing to discuss any issue in both Houses.


“We are open to a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry if this satisfies everybody,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said at a press conference ahead of the budget session due to begin on Thursday. Rejecting the charge by the Bharatiya Janata Party that Defence Minister AK Antony had misled Parliament while responding to the helicopter deal earlier, Nath retorted: “What does the BJP want Mr Antony to do? Work as per their style?”


On BJP’s threat to disrupt the functioning of Parliament till Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde apologised for his “saffron terror” remark, he said the principal party in the Opposition was committing a wrong since Parliament did not belong to just one political party but all parties there.


The minister asserted that the government was neither afraid nor hesitant to discuss any issue, including the VVIP helicopter scam, Afzal Guru hanging, Maoists activities, Bills such as Land Reforms and Food.


He said during a meeting with the chief whips of various political parties today, he figured out the “flavour’ of issues likely to be raised in the upcoming session.


On whether or not Shinde, who is also the Leader of the Lok Sabha, would apologise, Nath remained non-committal, emphasising that a discussion should be held on the issue in Parliament.


The minister said besides the passage of the Union Budget, Rail Budget and the Finance Bill, the government would accord priority to bring in Bills to replace three ordinances, including the Criminal Law (Amendment), to deal with sexual assault against women.


Asked if the government would refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, as was being suggested by some parties, Nath said normally Bills to replace Ordinances were not sent for scrutiny by a committee. However, he said, a decision would be taken after obtaining the sense of the House.


CBI team reaches Italy


The CBI team which reached Italy on Tuesday to probe role of Indians in the alleged VVIP helicopter deal scam met its lawyer and described the meeting as "useful."

We have nothing to hide: Antony

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 19

Defence Minister AK Antony today said nobody found involved in any wrongdoing in the VVIP helicopter deal would be spared. He said he had nothing to hide and was “sad and angry” that despite strong procedures “something happened somewhere”.


On his quitting the post, Antony said: “I will do my duty. I am now getting ready for the Parliament session. We will explain everything to Parliament. We have nothing to hide. Our hands are very clean.”


Addressing a press conference at a BrahMos Aerospace function, in obvious reference to media reports of differences between the MoD and the Ministry of External Affairs, he said there were no differences between different ministries on the process to scrap the deal and the government was working together.


Antony said he was “sad and upset” over the controversy despite all precautions having been taken. The minister said he was upset over the alleged scam as despite blacklisting six firms in one scam for which he was accused of slowing down modernisation, such an incident has happened. “There was no end to human greed and greedy people were working around the world,” said Antony.


“The government”, he said, “has decided that we must get to the root of the controversy to find out the truth. We must find out the culprits and whosoever is responsible, must be brought to justice at the earliest and then ensure maximum punishment. It is the resolve of the entire government… we will show no mercy,” he added.


“When the report came that the CEO of the company (Finmeccanica) was arrested, we decided to refer the matter to the CBI,” he said.


On February 12, Finmeccanica CEO Giueseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland CEO Bruno Spagnolini were arrested by Italian investigators.

Illegal sale of arms

SC questions Army over ‘soft’ punishments to erring officers

R Sedhuraman

Legal Correspondent


New Delhi, February 19

The Supreme Court today questioned the Army’s wisdom in letting off its officers with light punishments for illegal sale of prohibited weapons and ammunition to arms dealers and private persons.


A Bench comprising Justices SS Nijjar and MY Eqbal asked Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad as to whether the punishments ranging from mere reprimands to a fine of Rs 500 and demotion and denial of promotion were sufficient for such crimes.


The Bench put the question after the ASG acknowledged that the Army had taken disciplinary action against as many as 73 Army officers, most of them holding the ranks of Lt Colonel and Colonel, for their involvement in such sales.


Some of the guilty officers had to forfeit as many as six years of their service, the ASG said. Most of them were subjected to court martial for their offences. The officers had bought the weapons and ammunition from the Army according to their entitlement but had sold them without obtaining any permission.


The PIL petitioner, advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma, contended that the accused had bought the weapons for as low as Rs 500 and sold these at a whopping Rs 5 lakh each to arms dealers. It was quite possible that these deadly weapons had ultimately landed in the hands of terrorists and other anti-national elements and gangsters.


The ASG said the action against the culprits were taken after due deliberations between the Defence Ministry and the Army. He also contended that reprimand or forfeiture of service was viewed as a major punishment in the Army as such actions had a cascading effect, affecting the career prospects of such personnel.


Further, the punishments were given under the relevant Army rules and procedures meant for such crimes. Army personnel as a whole would be “demoralized” if the punishments had been more severe. Also, the judiciary could come into the picture in such cases only when the matter reached it in the form of appeals and not by entertaining PILs, the ASG argued. However, the Bench was not convicted. “Can we close our eyes when such glaring violations are brought to our notice? These officers were running an industry,” it remarked. Nevertheless, the Bench asked the petitioner and the government, including the Army and senior counsel JS Attri, who represented the Union Home Ministry, to file written submissions, explaining their stand on the SC’s role in such matters. The Bench said it would take up the case again after two weeks.


Major concern


    The PIL petitioner, advocate Arvind Kumar Sharma, contended that the accused had bought the weapons for as low as `500 and sold these at a whopping `5 lakh each to arms dealers

    It was quite possible that these deadly weapons had ultimately landed in the hands of terrorists and other anti-national elements and gangsters, the petition said

VVIP chopper deal: 'No mercy for guilty', says Defence Minister AK Antony

With Parliament scheduled to meet in two days, the government is prepping for accusations from the opposition of allowing a helicopter scam to unfold on its watch.


Defence Minister AK Antony said today that details of the CBI investigation commissioned last week into the 4000-crore deal for Italian helicopters will be shared with parliament.  But he also warned, "Don't raise a doubt for every purchase. India has a volatile neighbourhood and the Indian military needs to modernize fast." 


The minister ruled out his resignation, and pointed out that in recent years,   six defence manufacturers had been blacklisted for allegedly misusing middlemen, which illegal in India. 

"I am sad, in spite of taking all precautions ... we blacklisted 6 companies for bribery. I thought that will be a warning to everyone. Still, greedy people are working around the world," Mr Antony said.

 The contract was signed with AgustaWestland or AW in 2006, when President Pranab Mukherjee was Defence Minister. Last week, Italian investigators arrested the head of AW's parent company, Finmecannica, for paying bribes worth 350 crores in India.  The developments in Italy created a firestorm in Delhi.


With national elections scheduled for next year, the government is already battling the perception of intrinsic graft, courtesy a long list of financial scandals in sectors ranging from telecom to coal.

The Italian enquiry says that Indian officials were paid to revise the tender for helicopters to create a virtually bespoke contract for AW.  The government has tried to deflect the blame by stating that the changes to the contract were instructed by its predecessor in 2003.  But the revisions were authorized in 2006 after Dr Manmohan Singh's coalition came to power, and the deal was signed in 2010.

VVIP chopper scam: why the Indian Navy could be hit very hard

Following allegations of corruption in the AgustaWestland (AW) helicopter deal, plans for modernization of India's defence forces are in jeopardy.

As the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigates whether kickbacks were paid by AgustaWestland's parent company Finmeccanica, the armed forces worry that plans to replace 1970s and 80s era equipment will be held up, and that once again, India will be over-reliant on Russian manufacturers, instead of sourcing equipment from a wide range of suppliers.

Defence Minister AK Antony warned on Tuesday morning, "Don't raise a doubt for every purchase. India has a volatile neighbourhood and the Indian military needs to modernize fast." But officials say the CBI probe ordered by the government has now put officials dealing with India's acquisition process in a "go-slow" mode.

The Indian Navy, among the biggest spenders on defence acquisitions in the past five years, is likely to be the hardest hit, sources say.  The navy was at the advanced stage of negotiating prices to acquire 16 Multi-role helicopters (MRHs) for about 2 billion dollars.


In contention are the American Sikorsky and NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI), a consortium of AgustaWestland and Eurocopter among others. If AgustaWestland gets blacklisted, then the 13-year old process of tendering and bidding will have to begin again.


These helicopters are supposed to replace vintage Sea King helicopters. They are especially important for guarding the navy from submarine strikes.


The Indian Navy also has plans to buy 56 new Naval light utility helicopters which do a variety of jobs from search and rescue, surveillance and reconnaissance and AgustaWestland was supposed to be competing for this tender.


The Indian Army has been waiting forever to buy field artillery guns. The last field artillery purchase was the Bofors gun in 1987.


But with at least four international firms from as diverse nations as Singapore, South Africa, Germany and Israel, having been banned for one wrong doing or the other, the Indian Defence Ministry is fast running out of options to choose from.


Another big jolt for the armed forces was the recent announcement of budgetary cuts worth 14,000 crores.

India: War Preparedness Hit By Policy Paralysis Of Defence Ministry – Analysis

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations


India’s war preparedness against The China Threat and The Pakistan Threat is getting hit on two major counts. The de-emphasising of these two major threats by India’s policy establishment causes grievous harm to India’s security in more ways than one as reflected in my recent Papers on this site.


Compounding the above is the policy paralysis that afflicts the Indian Defence Ministry in terms of timely acquisition of military hardware and defence equipment for the Indian Armed Forces. This presumably flows from the above where complacency sets-in the Defence Ministry


Significantly on both counts there seems to be a political and bureaucratic obliviousness to the strategic reality that both China and Pakistan continuously monitor Indian war-preparedness where shortfalls in Indian military inventories (especially the 126 Fighter Aircraft and Artillery Guns) provide windows of opportunity for military adventurism against India. Kargil 1999 and India’s lack of retaliation against Pakistan after Mumbai 26/11


Reminiscent of the Bofors Scandal has been the VVIP Helicopters scam which has occupied Indian political and media space overwhelmingly for the last ten days. The Indian media has already started terming the current scam as Bofors II


Coming to the fore as this VVIP Helicopter scam assumes sharper contours and scrutiny are many questions as to why corruption dominates Indian defence purchases and related questions as to why an honest Defence Minister gets outsmarted by wheeler-dealer arms agents, lack of pre-emption of corruption in defence deals by Defence Ministry bureaucrats and more importantly what has the Defence Ministry over the decades done to reduce dependence on arms imports to improve India’s war preparedness.

Indian Defence Minister’s Dilemma—Safeguarding Personal Integrity Versus India’s War Preparedness


Defence Minister Antony assumed charge on 24 October 2006. He has an impeccable record of personal integrity so far and is reported to enjoy the political confidence of the Congress President.


The distinguishing feature of his years as Defence Minister is that he seems to have cancelled many defence deals at various stages of finalisation on the first whiff of corruption. In the process, the Indian Armed Forces stand deprived of front-line major combat equipment from Fighter Aircraft, Artillery Guns to Air Defence Radars etc.


During his charge major defence suppliers from Israel, Singapore, South Africa, Russia and Germany stand black-listed. The United States does not figure for reasons that will be discussed below. At this rate India would be left with very few defence equipment suppliers.


Apparently, foreign defence major suppliers in competition with the Indian- selected supplier resort to leakage of corruption reports through politicians, paid media reports etc. to prompt the Indian Defence Minister towards blacklisting and other actions to stall the deals. An instant case is the non-finalisation of the Rafael Fighter Aircraft deal even after a year of announcement of choice


The following excerpt from an item on a US think-tank site needs to be noted in this direction: “ ..Defence Minister Antony, a Gandhi family loyalist, is always on guard against any hint of corruption that might taint the Congress Party and its future hold on power. For that reason, defence deals are slow to materialise as bureaucrats and politicians are both extremely cautious about being caught holding the bag if defence deal becomes tainted with corruption charges”.


In the above process India’s war preparedness suffers immeasurably. Defence Minister Antony after nearly six years in the chair should have long realised that the answer to corruption in defence deals lies not in cancellations/blacklisting of defence equipment suppliers but to devise stringent anti-corruption measures within his own Ministry which process these deals or give sufficient assurance to his Defence Ministry bureaucrats that they will not be hounded if sufficient oversight had been exercised by them in processing defence deals  and that they remain above board in the process.


A former Indian Army Chief asserted in a TV panel debate that during the last six years a colossal sum of Rs70, 000 crores remained unutilised due to Ministry of Defence delays/ cancellation of contracts/blacklisting of foreign vendors.


The question that comes to the fore is what is more crucial for Indian national security—-India’s war-preparedness to ward of threats or the Defence Minister’s safeguarding his own personal integrity and that of his party?


The Defence Minister’s personal integrity could be safeguarded by a more assertive vigilance by him over his Ministry but the slippages of years in defence acquisitions cumulatively totalled puts Indian Armed Forces war-preparedness by decades to ward of the military threats to Indian security. Can political leaders reverse the decades old neglect of Indian war-preparedness?

Indian Defence Ministry’s Ponderous and Lengthy Time Spans to Process Finalisation of Defence Contracts


“The Ministry of Defence’s inability to more quickly procure defense equipment can be attributed to a number of factors including excessively bureaucratic procedures, insufficient bureaucratic capacity, and concern about perceptions of corruption that can scuttle defence deals if there are charges of irregularities. The slow pace of India’s acquisition process also stymies the Ministry of Defence from spending all of the allocated budget.” This observation is also made by the same US researcher.


With an over-elaborate Defence Procurements Procedure existing  covering a nearly dozen steps within the Defence Ministry there should be no space for bureaucratic lethargy unless Defence Ministry bureaucrats  come under pressure from political quarters to swing deals in a particular direction.


It is the Defence Ministry’s long ponderous time taken for processing of defence deals that generate corruption and charges of corruption in that it gives time to opposing competitors to employ all the weapons like political patronage, political pressures or manufactured corruption leaks to scuttle a finalised defence deal.


In normal course of bureaucratic alacrity it should not take more than two years to finalise the deal but on the average it is now taking seven to eight years to do so or even more as in the case of the 126 Fighter Aircraft

Defence Ministry’s Different Standards of Defence Equipment Acquisition from the United States


While the Indian Armed Forces are made to await long lead times in acquisition of defence equipment from India’s traditional suppliers like Russia, Israel and France, the Indian Government has adopted a different and favoured route for defence equipment acquisitions from the United States under the government-to-government Foreign Military Sales route.


In the last three years or so India acquired the following equipment from USA through FMS sales:


·         INS Jalshewa ship                  -$ 44 million


·         Seaking Helicopters 6           -$ 39 million


·         C130 Tpt Aircraft  6                -$ 0.9 billion


·         P8 MR Aircraft  8                      -$ 2.1 billion


·         C17 Globemaster Aircraft        -$ 5.8 billion


·         155 MM Howitzers                  -$ 647 million


There is other equipment in the pipeline over the $ $ 10 billion purchases above.


The question is as to why two different standards are being applied. If government-to government purchases deals can be done with the United States what prevents India from insisting the same with other countries? Obviously there is a political angle and double standards are at play.


The danger of the route adopted with the United States is that India in terms of end-user autonomy is subjected to US Congressional restrictions and also to be subjected to intrusive end- user inspections by United States Armed Forces officers, endangering our security.


Further, it seems that like in defence deals with other countries like Russia and France, the United States is not subjected to transfer of defence technologies to India nor subjected to 30% offsets to be invested in India.

The Crucial Question—Why India has Not Reduced its External Dependency on Arms Imports to Eradicate Acquisitions Corruption


The crucial issue is as to why after six decades of Independence the Indian Armed Forces are still being forced to import 70% of their weapons and defence equipment requirements from foreign countries.


The questions that arise are (1) Successive Indian Governments have failed to increase Indian indigenous defence production capacity, why? (2) In terms of apportioning blame does this arise from political apathy to matters defence or does this arise from bureaucratic lethargy? (3) Are there vested interests in perpetuating this external dependency for arms imports as it permits defence delegations foreign jaunts, kickbacks to politicians, bureaucrats and errant senior military officers?


On balance it seems that a mix of all the above factors contribute to the dismal state where Indian Armed Forces even after six decades have to rely on external arms imports which carries many dangers to Indian security.


Ultimately the buck stops at the apex political leadership levels. If they had the political will and the drive and determination to push through Indian indigenous defence production capabilities we would not be in the sorry state of affairs ranging from infirm war-preparedness of the Indian Armed Forces to all-pervasive and endemic corruption in defence deals.

Concluding Observations


India’s war preparedness is not the responsibility of the Indian Armed Forces. The weapons of war and the wherewithal that accompany them in our archaic civil-military relations template rests with India’s political leadership and the Indian Defence Ministry who exclusively process and finalise all defence contracts.


India as a whole must wake upto the strategic reality that our military adversaries, China and Pakistan are continuously monitoring India’s war-preparedness or lack of it. Delays in providing Indian Armed Forces with advanced and heavy firepower opens windows of opportunity for our military adversaries to militarily wound us at will. Kargil War 1999 and India’s lack of retaliation after Mumbai 26/11 arose from political and bureaucratic apathy to India’s war-preparedness.

Indian troops killed soldier after questioning: Pakistan Army

RAWALPINDI: The Pakistan Army on Friday condemned what it described as the “inhuman and brutal killing” of one of its soldiers by Indian troops near the de facto Kashmir border – the first deadly exchange since a truce was agreed a month ago.


The Pakistani military condemned the killing, saying the soldier had become lost and crossed the LoC “inadvertently”, and civilians had seen him being questioned by Indians troops.


“We condemn such an inhuman and brutal act of killing of our soldier after he had identified himself and explained his position,” a spokesman of the military’s public relations wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said.


The ISPR spokesman said that soldier Sepoy Ikhlaq had lost his way between two border posts earlier on Thursday and inadvertently crossed over the LoC in Khoi Ratta sector.


A few civilians at the scene saw the soldier being questioned by the Indians, he said.


“This is not the first such event. We have returned Indian soldiers in the past, who had similarly strayed,” said the spokesman.


He added that the Directors General Military Operations of the two countries spoke on the hotline this morning when the Indian DGMO revealed that the Pakistani soldier had been killed by their troops.


Sepoy Ikhlaq is a resident of Kallar Saydan, 22 years old, and had four years of service, he said.


Meanwhile, the body of the soldier has been handed over to the Pakistani authorities during a flag meeting in Laam Sector on Friday.


The deceased will be laid to rest with full military honour in his native town on Saturday, ISPR sources told the media.


The Pakistani foreign office also condemned the killing, saying that it “goes against the understanding reached between Pakistan and India on speedy return of inadvertent line crossers,” and that the incident had “the potential to further vitiate the atmosphere.”


“Pakistan calls upon the Government of India to carry out a thorough investigation into this unfortunate incident and to ensure that such incidents do not recur,” it said in a statement released Friday evening.


Meanwhile, an Indian army spokesman claimed the Pakistani soldier had been killed in a firefight in which one Indian soldier was also wounded.


“We detected some suspicious movement yesterday near the LoC (Line of Control) inside our territory and the challengers from our side fired and in the ensuing firefight he was killed,” said Lieutenant Colonel Rajesh Kalia, a spokesman for the Indian army’s northern command.


“At that time we did not know he was a Pakistani soldier. We killed an infiltrator,” the spokesman added.


Kalia said India expected to return the body to Pakistani authorities later in the day.


The incident is the first fatal exchange between troops in the region since the two armies agreed a ceasefire on January 16.


A flare-up along the LoC in early January saw a total of five soldiers killed, three from Pakistan and two from India.


The Indian government expressed outrage after it said one of its soldiers was beheaded although the Pakistan Army denied responsibility for the decapitation.


Cross-border trade and transport links were also suspended for several weeks although they have since resumed.


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