On a day Parliament saw hours-long discussion on the AgustaWestland helicopter deal, with both the present and the former Defence ministers speaking, Manohar Parrikar said the process to acquire new choppers for VVIP travel began in 1999. His predecessor, A K Antony, said the process had begun in 1990. But that is just one point the two made contrasting claims.
On lowering of chopper’s ceiling height to 4,500 m
Antony: On November 19, 2003, a meeting was convened by Principal Secretary, PMO, discussing single-vendor situation. (It) recommended lowering the operational altitude to 4,500 metres. The decision was taken by then PMO in 2003. Principal Secretary to PM wrote to the Air Chief stating that it was unfortunate that neither the PMO nor the SPG was consulted while framing these mandatory requirements. He suggested that CAS and Defence Secretary may jointly review the matter to draw up realistic mandatory requirements
Parrikar: (On) March 1, 2005, the NSA chaired a meeting. It was agreed that the ceiling be reduced to 4,500 and the cabin height to 1.8 metres. Qualitative Requirements (QR) were finalised on May 9, 2005 (in) a meeting chaired by the Defence Secretary.
On carrying field trials abroad
Antony: The field evaluation trial (FET) of AgustaWestland was carried out in the UK and trials of Sikorsky were carried out in USA from January 16, 2008 to February 2008. When the file came to me, as Defence minister, I objected. Then Vice Chief of Air Staff wrote to the Defence Secretary. The process followed bureaucratic channels, and I endorsed.
Parrikar: The CAG says trial was carried out on representative helicopter…AW-101 was in its development stage *at the time). RfP (request for proposal) said FET would be carried out in India on NCNC (no cost-no commitment) basis…this crucial aspect has been given a go-by.
Antony: Contract negotiation committee (CNC) was constituted and it carried out its discussions with the vendor between September 19, 2008 and January 21, 2009. While the CNC was progressing its discussions, Air HQ recommended inclusion of Traffic Collusion Avoidance System (TCAS-II) and Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) for all 12 helicopters and SPG/PMO recommended inclusion of Medevac System for eight VVIP helicopters. These additional equipment were considered essential for safe and effective operation…. The SPG also agreed to these requirements. The CNC, thereafter, recommended conclusion of the contract at a negotiated price of Euro 556.262 million.
Parrikar: The cost escalated…instead of making SQR broadbased, they were narrowed down. Acquisition again resulted in single vendor. Yet, AW-101 was chosen.
On CCS approval
Antony: CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) considered the proposal in its meeting held on January 18, 2010 and approved the proposal. In pursuance of the decision of the CCS, the Ministry of Defence concluded a contract for supply of 12 AW-101 VVIP helicopters with M/s AgustaWestland, UK.
Parrikar: CCS approval appears predicated primarily on AW being the “only helicopter” and multiple devitions from SQRs, including shortfalls, were approved.
On post-bribery allegations
Antony: (In) February 2012, the fist report (was received). The next day, we sought embassy report from Rome, the government of UK, (and the) prosecutor. On 19-4-12, the MoD wrote to CBI asking if (defence middleman) Abhishek Varma’s involvement was there.
Parrikar: While (the) embassy in Rome was approached to get credible information, no explanation was asked from the company and (the) said agreement continued. Deliveries of three aircraft were accepted in 2012.
On CBI probe and blacklisting
Antony: (On) February 12, 2013, MoD put on hold payments to AgustaWestland and handed over the case to CBI. We started (the) blacklisting process in February 2014. When the matter was referred to ASG, he (said) it is not advisable now. It will affect bank guarantee and affect the criminal proceedings, (he said).
Parrikar: First show-cause notice to AWIL (Agusta Westland International Limited) was sent on February 15, 2013. AWIL UK on October 4, 2013 raised the issue of going for arbitration. After consultation of ASG, a second SCN was issued on October 21, 2013. (On) 4-10-2013 AWIL cited arbitration…ASG (advice) was sought…(On) 1/1/2014, on advice of ASG, the company was banned.