By cancelling the AgustaWestland deal,UPA once again takes the easy way out.
Given the initiation of cancellation proceedings against the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal last February,the governments termination of the deal on Wednesday did not come as a surprise. But the scrapping of the deal is as predictable as it may be misguided. This newspaper has extensively reported over two years on the network of middlemen,officials and the money trail of bribes allegedly paid. It has been argued in these columns that the allegations must be probed and the guilty punished. But it was equally important to separate the machine from the bribe. As long as the choppers satisfied the technical criteria,there was little reason for the cancellation of the deal itself.
The UPAs rote recourse to bans,blacklisting and the pre-emptive freeze have held back Indias military modernisation project. It is small comfort that the AgustaWestland deal lies outside that ambit of military urgency. Yet this termination,too,will entail needless costs to the system. The defence ministry will now have to start searching for VVIP helicopters all over again even as the obsolete Mi-17s remain in circulation. The evidence against the seller may be irrefutable,but there were alternatives to termination,such as imposition of penalties and retrieval of the 45 per cent money paid via the integrity pact that appears to have been violated and which the government is pursuing in any case.
In 2012,six defence firms Israel Military Industries,Germanys Rheinmetall and Russias Corporation Defence among others were blacklisted for 10 years. Further slowing down the armys quest for modern artillery,this has pushed India towards a situation where,deprived of options,the MoD might be left with a single vendor. Every time the system is asked to prove its innocence,it lapses into inertia and prevarication. An overhaul of the procurement process putting in place more transparency procedures and clearer processes of accountability would also call for opening up the market to domestic private players,while training a set of military officers for the sole purpose of procurement as its done,say,in the United States.