The Supreme Court today put searching questions to the Chhattisgarh government on the purchase of a Agusta helicopter for VIP use in 2006-2007 and directed it to place the original files related to the deal.
The apex court asked the state government why a global tender was issued only for purchase of an Agusta chopper and how the recommendation of then state chief secretary to invite tenders from all the companies was “overturned”.
The court was hearing a plea seeking investigation into the alleged irregularities in the purchase of the helicopter and also foreign bank accounts purportedly linked to the son of Chief Minister Raman Singh.
A bench comprising justices A K Goel and U U Lalit made it clear that it was not going into the technicalities but just wanted to see whether there was “any fraud or hanky panky” in the deal.
“You (state) produce the files. We will see them,” the bench said, adding, “We only want to see whether there was any fraud or hanky panky. That is why we want to see the files. If you wish to file affidavit, keep it ready and keep the files also ready.”
The bench asked senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, who was appearing for Chhattisgarh, as to why the notice inviting tender (NIT) was concentrating only on Agusta.
“The civil aviation secretary says Agusta. The chief secretary says not only Agusta, go beyond Agusta. Why chief secretary’s note was overshadowed later?” it asked.
“When was the decision taken that rather than going for NIT for all, the tender would be for Agusta only? We want to know this,” the bench said.
Jethmalani told the court that he would seek instructions on certain issues and would file a short affidavit. The bench, while making it clear that state’s decision to purchase a helicopter was not questioned, asked the government to produce the files before it and posted the matter for hearing on November 23.
At the outset, advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioner, told the bench that a global tender was issued only for Agusta for purchase of a helicopter and bids of others, like Bell and Eurocopter, were not considered at all.
He alleged that illegal gratification was given in the deal and the chief minister’s son had opened a foreign bank account during that time. “It appears that in this, commission of over one million dollars was given and it was illegal gratification,” Bhushan said.
When he claimed that the chopper was purchased at a price of over five million US dollars, the bench asked Bhushan, “Have you got any information that this price is inflated and cheaper helicopters were available in the market?”
Responding to this, the counsel claimed that Jharkhand had purchased helicopter at a cheaper rate. He also said the CBI was already probing the case related to alleged irregularities in purchase of AgustaWestland choppers by the Centre.
Bhushan said that the petition has also sought a probe into the purchase of a helicopter by the Jammu and Kashmir government as it was done allegedly in a non-transparent manner.
Jethmalani told the court that the chopper purchased by the J-K government was different from the one bought by Chhattisgarh and it had got the “best price” for it at that time.
The plea has alleged that so far no genuine attempt has been made to investigate this deal.