Ex-Air Chief SP Tyagi Arrested, But Doubts Over Charges Remain
How could Tyagi have influenced an entire panel to accept changes in the chopper specifications, asks Amit Cowshish
In an unprecedented move – more saddening than surprising – the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday arrested former air force chief SP Tyagi, along with two others, in a case involving alleged bribes in a VVIP chopper deal.
This is not the first time a former service chief has come under the scanner. But it’s the first time a chief has been arrested.
The CBI’s track record in securing conviction, and quite often even in collecting sufficient evidence to prosecute the suspects, is not very encouraging. It will be disastrous if history repeats itself in this case. The chances of that happening are looking more and more remote, though.
It will be pointless to have a public debate on the criminal aspect of the case, for no one outside the system has access to the body of evidence, including 1.5 lakh documents handed over by the Italian authorities. It should be left to the courts to pass the verdict.
Considering the gravity of the development, however, the government and the courts will do well to ensure an extremely speedy trial because what is at stake is not just the reputation of a former chief of staff, but also the morale of the armed forces which tend to associate events related to personal lives of its top brass with the pride of the forces.
Bureaucrats and Politicians Involved Should be Nabbed, Too
One way of ensuring a quick trial is to move equally decisively against the politicians and bureaucrats involved in the scandal. The present government has invested considerable effort in pointing out such complicity. The Defence Minister’s speech in the Parliament in May earlier this year leaves no doubt on that score. Questions are bound to be asked why then no one has been implicated so far.
However much one may wish for a speedy closure, the criminal proceedings will take their own course. It will be unfortunate if continued focus on this spicy aspect of the scandal (ie SP Tyagi’s arrest) detracts from a renewed effort to deciphering how could the things go wrong despite the elaborate procedure we have in place and, more importantly, whether the loopholes that enabled the transgression have now been plugged.
The gravamen of the charge against the former air chief is that he was instrumental in the specifications being altered with a view to favouring AgustaWestland in winning the contract.
Doubts over Charges Against SP Tyagi
The specifications for the VVIP helicopter had earlier resulted in only Eurocopter EC-225 meeting the requirement. Such a single-vendor situation is something that the Ministry of Defence has traditionally been allergic to. The two changes made in the requirements for the choppers were lowering the flying ceiling from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres and tinkering with the height of the cabin. This allegedly paved the way for AgustaWestland, which had not qualified in the first round to tendering, to bag the contract.
Formulation and revision of specifications – qualitative requirements, or QRs – is done by the Services Equipment Policy Committee of the service concerned. This is not headed by the air force chief. There are several members of the committee drawn from various departments of the ministry. Not all of them work under the chief.
It is, therefore, difficult to visualise how the air chief singlehandedly, or in concert with outsiders, was able to influence the entire committee to accept the changes in specifications, especially if these were against the essential operational requirement, as is now being made out.
That’s not all. The contract was signed long after the air chief had retired. Assuming that the officials had been under his influence when he was in office, it defies common sense that no one blew the whistle even after his retirement. But this is what seems to have happened. The challenge would be to figure out how could this have happened and to plug that loophole.
There is also something wrong with the way the price was determined by the contract negotiation committee as being reasonable. There was evidently a margin of around ten percent in the contracted price that made it possible for AgustaWestland to dole out bribes. This may not be on account of complicity of the members of the committee. But a look at the manner in which the extremely important task of costing is handled in the ministry is also long overdue.
(Amit Cowshish is former financial advisor, Ministry of Defence, and currently Distinguished Fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are he author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.