People close to the Congress party leadership, who enjoyed positions of power and played a crucial role in the inking of the Agusta Westland helicopter deal, continue to remain out of the Central Bureau of Investigation’s focus. Sources in the know say that instead of pursuing them, the CBI is busy tracking the “small fry”, who gained little or nothing from the deal.
Officials in the intelligence apparatus who have been monitoring the scam, ever since news about it became public during the rule of the erstwhile United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2013, stated that the CBI has not seriously probed the top ranking bureaucrats, at least one former Union minister and another top Congress leader who played a crucial role in swinging the Rs 3,727 crore deal in favour of AgustaWestland. They say that these individuals continue to enjoy immunity because of their political influence, despite the Congress not being in power.
Among those who were in a position to affect the deal, one way or the other, at different stages of negotiation and finalisation, include former National Security Adviser and former Governor of West Bengal, M.K. Narayanan; former chief of the Special Protection Group and later Goa Governor, Bharat Wanchoo; former Defence Secretary and current Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, Shashi Kant Sharma; former Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, who occupied the said post between 2007 and 2009; and at least two top Congress leaders, one of whom has close connections with a well known arms dealer.
However, sources close to these bureaucrats state that there is no evidence to suggest that they had done anything wrong or illegal and that they had done their job without any fear or favour.
The CBI had, initially, after a great deal of media pressure, questioned Wanchoo and Narayanan in June-July 2014, but nothing happened after that.
“The top bureaucrats, some of whom enjoyed top posts even after retirement and played a major role in swinging the deal for Agusta, were never seriously probed by any agency despite having sufficient evidence to start a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against them. Even the involvement of two senior Congress leaders is well known, but they still remain out of bounds. The CBI is unlikely to touch any of the top people involved in the deal. At the most what the agency can do is to plant stories that sing paeans in its praise, which it has been doing lately through informal media briefings,” said a senior intelligence officer in the know.
The CBI, which arrested former Air Chief S.P. Tyagi, for his alleged role in the scam, was left red faced after the court gave him bail, despite the agency informally briefing beat reporters repeatedly that it had an airtight case against him.
According to the intelligence officer, the discussion to revise the flying height was held in a 7 March 2005 meeting chaired by Deputy Chief of Air Staff (DCAS) at the Air HQ and was also attended by the Joint Secretary & Acquisition Manager (Air), Director SPG and other officers from Air HQ. It was decided at the meeting to reduce the height altitude capability to 4,500 metres.
“Why single out Tyagi? Does the Air Chief have the power to single-handedly okay a deal worth Rs 3,700 crore for helicopters that are to be used for civilian VVIPs? In fact it was the Air Force headquarters, which had, time and again, reiterated that the helicopter’s ability to fly at 6,000 metre was absolutely necessary. The other officials who played an important part in the whole deal are very influential people and even those who have retired still yield considerable clout in the present government circle. It is many of their juniors and protégés who are in a position to initiate a thorough probe against them and hence I do not think that the CBI or other agencies will move beyond people like Tyagi in this case”, said the officer.
A similar argument was made by Tyagi’s lawyer Menaka Guruswamy while successfully seeking bail for him. She stated that the helicopters were bought for VVIP civilians and it was the concerned bureaucracy which was involved in the whole decision making, rather than Tyagi.