The government may have decided to let Ottavio Quattrocchi off the hook,but the Bofors ghost continues to haunt the armed forces,with several key artillery modernisation programmes put in the limbo due to wrongdoing charges levelled against three major international manufacturers.
While no new artillery guns have been purchased since the Bofors scandal,the latest victim of ban are two crucial contracts to procure 155 mm towed artillery guns and 155 mm light mountain howitzers to maintain the Armys conventional edge in the region.
Ironically,out of the major global artillery systems,only the Bofors gun,which has changed ownership several times and is now part of the BAE group,can be bought by the Army no questions asked.
The towed guns are urgently required to match Pakistan,which has recently acquired modern self-propelled ones from the US under the fight against terror aid while the light howitzers are required for deployment in the mountains,mainly along the Chinese border where they can be airdropped to inaccessible areas.
In the works for almost a decade,the two contracts have been delayed due to the ban on South African Denel,Israeli Soltam and Singapore Technologies,which are under the scanner for alleged bribery in several different cases.
Trials for the towed guns the Army requires 400 of them at the earliest were set to take place later this month but sources say they have now been put off due to the charges levelled against one of the competitors,Singapore Technologies,in connection with the Ordnance Factory Board scam. The only other gun that made it was the Bofors,but to prevent a single vendor situation,the trials have been put off. This has effectively pushed back the acquisition by at least a year.
Another manufacturer that could have made it to the competition,Soltam,was kicked out of the race as it is partially owned by arms agent Sudhir Choudhary,who is wanted by the CBI in several armament procurement cases.
The other contract,for 155 mm light mountain howitzers,is also on hold as the only company that met the requirements was again Singapore Technologies. The ST gun,which was under shipment for trials,is awaiting clearances from the Defence Ministry.
There are indications now that the contract may swing in favour of BAE Systems Bofors,which manufactures the M 777 ultra light howitzer,that is being used by the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sources say that the contract is being pursued through the foreign military sales route from the US,which has bought several thousand guns from BAE.
The delays in the two main artillery modernisation programmes come even as neighbouring countries threaten to blunt Indias conventional edge in the region.