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Congress smells Agusta scam, Rajasthan government refutes

Calling the move “surprising”, Congress state president Sachin Pilot said that the Vasundhara Raje government has not learnt from its mistakes.

Written by Hamza Khan | Jaipur | Updated: August 20, 2018 3:01:21 pm
Congress, Congress party, opposition Congress party, opposition party, AgustaWestland, AgustaWestland helicopters, Congress files CBI inquiry, CBI inquiry by Congress, Rajasthan, Rajasthan government, AgustaWestland CBI inquiry, Jaipur, regional news, Indian Express An AW 109E chopper has been grounded since November 2011. (Source: File)

Opposition Congress party in the state has alleged irregularities and has sought a CBI inquiry into a bid by the Rajasthan government to procure an AgustaWestland helicopter, while the BJP-led government denied the charge and defended its move.

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Calling the move “surprising”, Congress state president Sachin Pilot said that the Vasundhara Raje government has not learnt from its mistakes, and referred to a CAG report for the 2007-08 financial year. The CAG had, in the report, pulled up the then Raje government for “wasteful expenditure” of Rs 1.14 crore in 2004 to procure the AW 109E chopper.

An AW 109E chopper has been grounded since November 2011.

Asserting that “there is no wrongdoing”, Civil Aviation director Kesri Singh told The Indian Express, “We are incurring crores in maintenance and preservation of AW 109E Power since 2011. We have tried to sell it without luck.”

According to bid documents (accessed by The Indian Express), the Rajasthan government had sought a new AgustaWestland 169 (or AW 169) helicopter in November under buyback plan for its AW 109E Power Helicopter. The Notice Inviting Bid (NIB) was published online on November 21, and available for download between November 22 and 5 pm on November 29.

The bid was “invited from manufacturer or its exclusive official authorised distributor in India,” and sought that the helicopter supplied be “factory new and…state of the art”.

The bid title stated, “Procurement of a new AW 169 helicopter under buyback of AW 109E Power Helicopter.”

A key condition in the bid document is buyback of the old AW 109E. Accordingly, the bid amount for the new helicopter has been kept at Rs 75 crore, and the buyback price of A109E at Rs 12.50 crore.

Alleging that the government “once again” wants to procure “only an AW 169 helicopter, as is clear from the bid”, Pilot alleged, “To prevent other companies from participating, the bid was only open for a week, even though, as per norms, it should have been a month. Its performance and seating capabilities are also not stated — again in violation of norms.”

He said that US company Bell and European airline company Airbus have “lodged their protest over the procedure”.

Civil Aviation director Singh said the state government tried to sell the AW 109E helicopter twice last year — “first in June 2015, and then in September 2015, (but) we did not get any buyer.”

Without naming Bell and Airbus, Singh said, “There are reports that other companies have issues with our process, but not one of them was interested in buyback last year. We have wanted to clear it (the old chopper) out but with no results.”

So, he said, the high-level committee looked at other states and decided to go with the buyback option as a “last resort”. Singh said, “The entire process is online and as transparent as it can get. We have followed Rajasthan Transparency in Public Procurement Act, 2012, to the word.”

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