Egged on by a parliamentary panel to explain why it could not submit Action Taken Notes (ATN) on two key paragraphs of the CAG report on the Bofors deal in 27 years, the Defence Ministry has sent detailed file notings to a sub-panel of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, saying it is not in possession of relevant files to do so.
Bringing back spotlight on the three-decades-old controversy, a PAC sub-committee this month sought to know the reasons for the ministry not submitting ATNs on two paragraphs highlighting irregularities in the purchase process of Howitzer artillery guns. These are para 11 of CAG report number 2 of 1989 and audit para 9 of CAG report number 2 of 1990.
Citing unavailability of files relating to the paragraphs, the ministry earlier approached PAC with a suggestion that those paras be deleted from the records. The PAC sub-panel, however, took objection to the ministry’s missive and has instead asked it to trace and share with it all the missing files. On July 25, PAC received the file notings of the ministry about the non-submission of ATNs on these paragraphs. The 18-page submission traces the communication within the defence ministry which ended into a decision to delete those paragraphs.
It shows that after meetings at various levels, the ministry came to a view that it will approach PAC for deletion of the eight audit paragraphs pending for 25 years, including the two related to Bofors, as their records are not available. A source in the panel said the defence ministry had not replied to these two paragraphs of the CAG report. “After 2007, there was no correspondence between CAG and the defence ministry on it,” the source said. Governments led by National Front, Congress, United Front, NDA and UPA came to power in the 27 years since CAG submitted these reports.
In a background note submitted to the sub-panel in response to a query on the ATN’s current status, the ministry said more than a week ago, “The Bofors case is still sub-judice and the return of relevant files from CBI is awaited”. Defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, who appeared before the panel on June 14 and July 13, was repeatedly asked by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey why the ministry did not try to access these files.
When this question was put to Mitra in a meeting on June 14, he is learnt to have said he “cannot throw much light on what was the mindset earlier” as it will be unfair for him to ask his colleagues to share their views on “what the mindset of the then defence secretary would have been”. Asked about the issue, Mahtab said, “That matter was not closed. There are a number of paragraphs of the CAG report which the government has not answered to. I have just asked the government to reply to the pending paragraphs for compliance.”