Sunday, May 8, 2016

Highlights from Lok Sabha proceedings: Manohor Parrikar on AgustaWestland

Defence Minister Manohor Parrikar in Lok Sabha on May 6, 2016 assured parliament that unlike Bofors gun deal where accused could not be brought to book, the on-going CBI probe will be able to fix the wrongdoers. 

Highlights:

"I can assure you all, I will not fail. What we could not do in Bofors, we may be able to do in AgustaWestland," Parrikar said in response to a Calling Attention discussion in the lower house of parliament.

BJP parliamentarians Anurag Thakur, Kirit Somaiya and Nishikant Dubey, Saugata Roy (Trinamool) and Jyotiraditya Scindia (Congress) also spoke.

The Bofors controversy had erupted after allegations surfaced regarding kickbacks from Bofors AB company of Sweden for winning a bid to supply 155 mm field howitzer to India. It led to the ouster of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government in 1989.

However, Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman, who was being sought until 2009 in India for criminal charges for acting as a conduit for bribes in the Bofors scandal, later died on July 13, 2013.

Ottavio Quattrocchi

Attacking the Congress government, Parrikar, however, tried to show sympathies to former defence minister A.K. Antony and dubbed him "bechare (helpless)".

"Bechare Antony sahab ke haath baandhe they (a helpless Antony had his limitations)," Parrikar said adding, once an arrest was made in 2012 in Italy in the case, "Antony was virtually in panic".
"...because Antony wanted to protect his image," Parrikar said, adding, "within two-three hours, Antony moved the file, cleared papers and ordered a CBI probe".
He also said the field trials of the chopper outside India were initially opposed by Antony. "But he was later convinced to change his stand". 
However, the minister said, the CBI just sat over the matter and "did nothing" till January 2014.

Congress members including Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi staged a walkout at a later stage after Kharge's demand for a Supreme Court monitored probe was rejected by the government.
At one point of time, Parrikar said, the Congress leaders during their days in power 
had almost "lost a sense of proportion" and violated basic norms of tender formalities.
"It was as if the sight of Euro or the smell of money was attractive....they thought they will be in power permanently," Parrikar 
said.
Defence minister said the tender for the contract was submitted by Italy-based AgustnaWestland but given to the UK-based Agusta Westland International. 
"This was my biggest shock. I have never seen that tender was submitted by one company and given to some other company," he said. 

Parrikar said former Air Force officer N.V. Tyagi and city-based lawyer Gautam Khaitan, the two accused in the Rs.3,600-crore chopper scam, were only “small people”.
"Be it Tyagi or Khaitan, they are small people," Parikkar said. 
Defence Minister tabled a paper in the house and said this was minutes of an important meeting of May 9, 2005, wherein it was made "mandatory" that the cabin height of the VVIP choppers should 1.8 metre.

He also referred to a fire mishap in an office wherein important files are stored. 
"The fire was caught mysteriously and many files were destroyed. But three files were safe as they 
were retained in a locker by an official. I will now even ask the CBI probe the cause of the fire as it 
raises some questions," Parrikar said.

Parrikar said Antony put on hold the deal only on May 12, 2014, the fag end of Lok Sabha elections, and wondered 
if it was driven by the results of exit polls, which was nevertheless going in favour of BJP.
"Some concessions were given, especially to a single vendor. It was not given to other companies. This showed the favour," the defence minister said.

During the debate, Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy said, while the defence minister spoke "some truths", he hastened to add, some of these would not be palatable for the BJP.
Congress member Scindia cautioned BJP of working with vendetta against Sonia Gandhi saying, "you all know what happens, when a tigress is provoked".



Defence Minister Manohor Parrikar on Friday (May 6) also sought the assistance of Lok Sabha Speaker 
Sumitra Mahajan in translating a Marathi word which the chair obliged. 

In his opening remarks to the Calling Attention notice on Agustawestland VVIP chopper deal, Parrikar used a Marathi phrase to strengthen his argument that the guilty conscious hits only a "wrong doer".
"I don't know the exact Hindi word madam. In Marathi we call it 'Aru'...it is said one who eats Aru, he only gets
the feel of it on his throat," Parrikar said.

"Aru ki bhaji jo khata hae, unke hi gale lagta hae," Parrikar said to which the Speaker offered to translate
saying Aru means: "Arbi ka pata". 
'Arbi' in Hindi is a common vegetable/leafy item also known as Taro or Eddoe and is eaten across India. It is known as "kochu" in West Bengal and eastern India and Aru in Maharashtra.  
The Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is elected member from Indore seat in Madhya Pradesh and was born to a Chittpavan Koknastha Brahmin Marathi family, says Wikipedia. 


Parrikar also said:

"There were lot of discussions over Pilatus in 2012, when I came, around 62 planes were already flying. 

I thought if I raise it now, the Air Force (pilot) shortage, which has come to 164, would have gone up to 1000". 

"So sometimes you are under strain to continue even not very healthy...I will investigate but will not stop flying the equipment," Parrikar added. 

Focus on CAG Sharma

Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy also made a veiled reference to the incumbent Comptroller and Auditor General Shashi Kant Sharma vis-a-vis AgustaWestland chopper scam.
"I want to ask whether you have questioned the DG procurement," Trinamool member Saugata Roy asked Defence Minister Manohor Parrikar participating in the discussions on the high-profile controversy.
Roy, however, did not take any name. 
The Dum Dum MP from West Bengal questioned the defence minister specifically, "What action have you taken in the one-and-a-half yearsagainst corruption?"
He also alleged that while the NDA government has been "shouting from the house top against corruption", it did not have 
anything "specific" to divulge. 
"You say that Rs.124 crore bribe has been paid," Roy pointedly told Parrikar and asked him, "What has the CBI under your government done in two years? If bribe has been paid, you should have recovered it". 
Blogger in Parliament
The CAG Shashi Kant Sharma held the post of Director General (Acquisition) -- which Trinamool MP called as "procurement" - in the defence ministry in 2007-10. 
Allegedly Sharma's name or designation as "DG (Acq.)" - short form of Acquisition figures in the list of people named by 
middleman, Christian Michel as documented in the Italian court order.
Michel is now a fugitive, Trinamool and BJP sources alleged.

BJP member Nishikant Dubey also made a veiled reference to the CAG and few other people who continue to hold constitutional positions. 

Shashi Kant Sharma belongs to the 1976 batch of Indian Administrative Service and joined the Ministry of Defence in 2003 as a Joint Secretary. 

Sharma became DG acquisition in 2007 and has been "literally controlling" the basic process of controversial AgustaWestland chopper purchase. 

He continued in the key position till 2010 and became Defence Secretary later in 2011.

In May 2013, BJP had opposed appointment of Sharma as CAG.
Even last year, a section of BJP leaders made an issue over the powers of CAG. 
In fact, on the sidelines of a conference of Public Accounts Committee chairpersons in parliament premises, BJP MP, Nishikant Dubey, also a member of PAC, had sought CAG to be made accountable to the parliament. 
"We have the incumbent CAG Shashi Kant Sharma, a former Defence Secretary, who is now auditing his own actions as the Defence Secretary when a few deals materialized,” Dubey had said.

Apparently, it is understood now that the ruling establishment is now making a case for the CBI to "question Sharma". 
The argument for the same has only gained currency once the Italian court judgment has included the "bribe list" as given by fugitive Michel as annexure.

However, Saugata Roy of Trinamool Congress has tried to argue in the Lok Sabha on Friday that the words and testimonies of a fugitive should be "taken with a pinch of salt".

(ends)
Dynasty's chosen son remained silent!

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