Contract deviated from rules: CAG

ChopperChopper Deal

The entire process to procure helicopters for VVIP travel — from framing technical requirements in March 2005 to the signing of the deal in February 2010 — deviated from the rules and several undue exceptions were granted to winning contender Italian firm AgustaWestland's AW 101, according to a special audit report on the controversial deal.

Taking a strong line on the deal that is currently under investigation for bribery charges after a series of reports in The Indian Express, the CAG report has revealed that the IAF did not even test the AW 101 during field trials in Italy, opting for only "representative helicopters" as the machine was not ready for trials.

It also says that the then Air Chief Marshal F H Major insisted that trials be carried out in the UK and US, despite objections from Defence Minister A K Antony that the "fidelity and credibility" of the tests could be compromised if conducted abroad.

The CAG report raises questions about the fairness of the trial process, saying that although a single trial directive was issued, the IAF in 2008 chose to employ different methodologies for the evaluation of the the two contenders —the AW 101 and S 92 — in contravention to the Defence Minister's directions.

Dissecting the contract from 1999, when the requirement for new VVIP choppers was first put up, the CAG says in its report that deviations started after the UPA I government gave its go-ahead to the project and initiated the contract in March 2005.

The key change in technical requirements, currently being probed by the CBI, was the reduction of the service ceiling from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres that enabled the Italian firm to participate.

While the defence ministry in a detailed statement issued earlier this year put the blame for the critical changes on the NDA government by citing a 2003 meeting by then NSA Brajesh Mishra where the matter was discussed, the CAG report says the changes were actually initiated in 2005.

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