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GOVERNMENT REMAINS MUM OVER DETAILS PERTAINING TO CHOPPERGATE SCAM

Joydeep Hazarika for BeyondHeadlines

While India may have scrapped off the Rs 3700 crore deal with the Italian AgustaWestland company in the wake of the Choppergate scam earlier this year, the public still remains in dark over the nitty gritties and details that were involved in the case. While the UPA government may have scrapped off the deal to come clean in the wake of the commotion this issue created, it is still not sure as to how the procedures of the deal post the scrapping are being carried out.

Authorities have been quite tight lipped over the procedures and a latest RTI query reveals that the defence ministry and the Air force authorities are reluctant to divulge much details over the issue.

Delhi based RTI activist Subhash Chandra Aggarwal filed an RTI to the defence ministry with some queries regarding the dealings of the VVIP choppers after the reports of the deal being scrapped first came out in the media.

The defence ministry stated that some of the information about the queries in the RTI was in the possession of the Air force and so the RTI was forwarded to the Air Office. The reply also stated that the defence ministry on its part could not give away any details regarding the details of the case as the matter was still subjudice in a court of law and it may hamper the CBI’s investigation in the same.

The Air force authorities replied on some of the queries that were put to it and some of them were quite interesting while still most of the facts were kept in the dark.

In his RTI, Aggarwal sought details about the signing and terminating of the deal for the supply of 12 VVIP choppers. This information was however denied under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act citing security and strategic interests of the nation. Here, Aggarwal contends that under various sub-sections of section 8(1) including also section 8(l)(a) are not meant to provide a hiding cover for scams, scandals and corruption. Moreover section 8(2) of RTI Act provides access to information in case public-interest overweighs the harm protected. Here in this case, public-interest is definitely there because of alleged kickbacks as reported in media.

Another query that the RTI activist had wanted was the number of VVIP helicopters that had already been supplied to India along with the date of their delivery in there had been any. Interestingly, the RTI revealed here that though the contract had been cancelled January 01 in 2014, nine more helicopters were to be delivered in the months of January, March and May in 2013. Here, however, the authorities were silent on whether these nine more helicopters were delivered on scheduled dates or not.

Aggarwal also sought the cost of helicopters and terms of payment mentioning also payment already made with dates of respective payments. This was turned down by the authorities under section 8(1)(d) of RTI Act as being commercial in nature. Here again, Aggarwal contended that the information was vital for the public to know as it pertains to a case of corruption.

Aggarwal had also asked if India had received the amount it had held in bank guarantee, along with the details if any such thing had taken place. Also, another query put forward was if India had sent back any of the choppers that had already been delivered by AgustaWestland.

The Air force responded that the details regarding these queries are not with them and so Aggarwal has appealed that these queries should be forwarded to the concerned authorities in this matter.

While the defence ministry refuses to divulge what it has done with the choppers that it may have already received in the deal, India has already initiated a move to seek repayment of some 270 million euros from Finmeccanica.

New Delhi froze payments for the helicopters in February, 2013, after Italian police arrested Finmeccanica’s former chairman Giuseppe Orsi, for allegedly paying bribes to middlemen for securing the deal.

The Choppergate scam blew a lot of hot air in the parliament last year with fingers being raised directly at the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Graft has been the biggest spoilsport in the election prospects of the Congress party so far and it seems the government is no mood to let out any more spoilers to an already spoiled froth.

The matter is currently under investigation by the CBI where it has filed a case against former IAF chief S.P. Tyagi and 12 others, including his cousins, for alleged cheating, corruption and criminal conspiracy.

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