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BJP-Congress trade charges in AgustaWestland debate 

New Delhi, May 4 (IANS) The Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday accused the previous UPA government of “twisting norms” in the process of procuring VVIP choppers from AgustaWestland.

The opposition Congress hit back, stating that the process for buying VVIP choppers started during the tenure of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government, and that the norms were changed by the then BJP-led government.

It also said that the mention of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the Italian court judgment does not prove any involvement in the deal.

Initiating a debate in the Rajya Sabha on “allegations of bribery and corruption” in AgustaWestland deal, BJP member Bhupendra Yadav said that competition was restricted by changing altitude norms for procurement of the chopper.

Yadav cited a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report and alleged that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government “reduced the altitude (norms) from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres and ignored the operational requirements, service quality requirement to favour AgustaWestland.”

“The fact that by making cabin’s height 1.8 metres as mandatory requirement, the competition was restricted, and which led to a single vendor situation for acquisition of AgustaWestlend,” Yadav said.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, speaking immediately after Yadav, said the norms were changed during the Vajpayee government’s term itself.

Singhvi said then principal secretary Brajesh Mishra had said that the altitude requirement should be reduced or it can lead to a single vendor situation, after which the altitude requirement was reduced in December 2003.

Singhvi also said the mention of Sonia Gandhi, and others including Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmad Patel, in the judgment of the Milan court did not indict them, and only mentioned them as VVIPs who would use the choppers.

“By this logic all of the former, including the present President, should be indicted… Mrs. Gandhi was mentioned as someone flying on the chopper,” he said.

BJP’s Yadav also read out from a 2008 CAG report and pointed out that the then defence minister had said the trials should be in India, and yet the trials were conducted in Europe. He also said the equipment tested was not the AW101 chopper which India had to buy but another model.

He added that the price paid for the choppers was at least three times more than what it should have been.

Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, however, said that reports of scams in defence deals affect the morale of the soldiers and the issue should be sorted out.

“If there is a matter, sort it out as soon as possible, don’t politicise and sensationalise it,” he said.

The multi-crore-rupee scam resurfaced last month after the names of some Congress leaders, including of party chief Sonia Gandhi, were said to have figured in a judgment of the Italian court.

AgustaWestland was alleged to have paid Rs.375 crore as bribe to secure the Rs.3,700-crore contract to supply 12 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force. The contract for purchase of helicopters for the use of VVIPs was signed in 2010. The previous UPA government scrapped the deal over charges of kickbacks.

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