UPA govt did everything to help Agusta bag contract: Manohar Parrikar

Congress walks out of Parliament as Defence Minister continues with allegations on the UPA government.

New Delhi: Continuing their charge on Congress, the government Friday said the previous UPA government had "done everything" to help AgustaWestland bag the contract for VVIP helicopters and asserted that it will track down the main beneficiaries of the kickbacks in the deal.

Parrikar said in the Lok Sabha that former Air chief S P Tyagi and Gautam Khaitan, both accused in the case, are "small people" who "simply washed their hands in a flowing ganga (of corruption)" and that the government will "find out where the river was going".

Speaking on a Calling Attention Motion on the chopper deal, he took a dig at Congress, saying it seemed to know where this "ganga was going".

He said the UPA government had "done everything" to help AgustaWestland bag the contract and that its action against the company following the disclosure of corruption was not pro-active but "forced by circumstances".

Read: AgustaWestland case: SC seeks Centre's reply on PIL for FIR against Cong leaders

Tyagi and Khaitan were "small people who simply washed their hands in a flowing ganga (of corruption)", Parrikar said, asserting that the government will track down the main beneficiaries of the kickbacks in the Rs 3600 crore deal for 12 VVIP choppers.

"Why are you (Congress) concerned? I have not named anybody. You seem to know where the ganga was going," the Defence Minister said, taking a swipe at Congress.

Parrikar, who was criticsed by opposition members for reading from a statement during a debate over the issue in the Rajya Sabha, mostly spoke extempore and narrated the sequence of events related to the contract and its subsequent cancellation.

While a criminal case was registered in Italy in November 2011 over alleged exchange of bribe in the deal, the UPA government continued with the aquisition of choppers and three of them were delivered, he said. Only after Finmeccanica, parent firm of AgustaWestland, officials were arrested in 2013, that the then Defence Minister A K Antony asked the CBI to probe the matter, he said.

Read: Agusta deal: How did Swamy get ‘sensitive’ confidential info?, asks Congress

Before then the government had not even written to the company and instead taken up the matter with the embassy, Parrikar said, likening it to "setting up a committee when you do not want to do anything". "Its (UPA) action was compulsarily forced by the arrest of Finmeccanica official... It did not take any pro-action measure," he said.

Attacking Congress, Parrikar said Antony put on hold the deal only on May 12, 2014, the last day of the Lok Sabha elections, and wondered if it was driven by the results of exit polls, which had predicted a big loss for the UPA.

Finding loopholes in the deal, the Defence Minister said the tender for the contract was submitted by Italy-based AgustnaWestland but given to the UK-based Agusta Westland International Ltd (AWIL), which was not Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).

Read: Congress demands SC-monitored probe in VVIP chopper deal

"I have never seen that tender was submitted by one company and given to some other company... It has many legal implications," he told the Lok Sabha.

While the previous NDA government, which has started the process for acquiring VVIP choppers, broadened Services Qualitative Requirements (SQR) to get more companies in the tender process, the UPA made it "restrictive" to benefit AgustaWestland, Parrikar alleged.

Read: Agusta rocks August Houses: Who benefitted, asks Parrikar

The benchmark price was also increased by many times that benefitted the company, the Defence Minister said, adding that it should not have been done as it was the only vendor.

Antony, he said, had objected to the firm's request for doing the field trial outside but he was later "convinced" to withdraw them. It was done against the clause of tender, he asserted.

( Source : PTI )
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