A six-member parliamentary committee, which is looking into the non-compliance of certain aspects of the Comptroller and Auditor General or CAG report on the 1986 Bofors howitzer gun deal, has stated that a systematic failure, amounting to criminality, ensured that the law agencies could not reach the Indian nationals who were behind the scam and were allegedly given bribes.
“Important files were deliberately misplaced and no real effort was done to locate them. The people who were responsible for the safety of these files need to be investigated; a criminal investigation needs to be started against them. The investigation needs to be done by the Ministry of Defence. It is in this context that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be asked to continue its work in the case, although it had been asked to stop by the UPA government in 2005,” a source, who is aware of the proceedings of the committee, told The Sunday Guardian.
The 19-page CAG report on the March 1986 Bofors deal, a Rs 1,700 crore gun deal in which certain people allegedly got commissions to the tune of almost 14% of the total deal, had pointed out many glaring loopholes in it, including the last minute change to go for Bofors.
“Army Headquarters (HQ) had indicated on as many as six occasions between December 1982 and October 1985, their preference for the (French) Sofma gun. However, (it) reversed its preference in February 1986 and recommended Bofors. Neither the need nor the reason for the fresh evaluation is clear,” the CAG had observed. It also noted that “The defence secretary, in his note of March 22, 1986, wrote to the prime minister that he had discussed (at the airport) with Arun Singh the question of signing the agreement with Bofors. The minister ‘gave his blessings’.”
The CAG stated that “The Indian mission in Sweden suggested in July 1987...the possibility of Bofors submitting the entire gamut of transactions to Indian audit authorities, but this was not pursued.” Officials aware of the development said that the audit was not carried out as the then Joint Secretary (Ordnance) in the Ministry of Defence, T.K. Banerjee cautioned the government about the “consequences” of allowing an inquiry by an independent CAG. Banerjee issued the cautionary note on the direction of the then Defence Secretary, S.K. Bhatnagar.
The CBI expressed its desire to approach the Supreme Court in 2005 after the Delhi High court quashed the Bofors case, but it was denied permission by the then UPA government. At the time, Hansraj Bhardwaj was the Law Minister and U.S. Misra was the CBI director.
Sources in the CBI, while commenting on the issue, said it was up to the Central government on how it wanted to move ahead, since restarting the proceedings could only happen under the direction of the Ministry of Law.