Is former Air Force chief SP Tyagi being made a scapegoat?

<b>The arrest of former IAF chief in the Agusta Westland case seems to have more to do with politics than any investigation by the CBI or evidence of wrongdoing</b>



Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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NH Political Bureau

There is simmering resentment among ex-servicemen at the sensational arrest of the former Air Force chief SP Tyagi by the Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday. There is a feeling that the former IAF chief is being made a scapegoat in a political witch hunt launched by the present Government. By doing so, they feel the Government has let down the services and recklessly cast aspersions on a highly decorated officer.


The Tyagis had confided earlier this year that neither the CBI nor the Enforcement Directorate ‘grilled’ them during 60 hours of questioning. They would have coffee and tea and walk on the corridor. But every evening the media would be alerted to photograph them leaving the buildings. All the agencies wanted, they admitted, were names of politicians they could implicate. The arrest of the former IAF chief seems to have more to do with politics than any investigation by the CBI or evidence of wrongdoing.


sharp questions in the wake of IAF chief’s arrest


Some of the questions they raised in the wake of yesterday’s arrest are the following:


*Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi retired in 2007. Orders for supply of VVIP helicopters were placed in 2010. So if former Air Chief Tyagi is guilty of influencing the decision, what about his successors?


*The CBI claims that it was the former Air Chief who got the specifications tweaked to favour Finmeccanica and Agusta Westland whereas the specifications were changed at the instance of the PMO in 2003.


*Even the CAG report acknowledges that the specifications were changed after intervention of the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s PMO.


*The report also records the involvement of PMO, NSA, Special Protection Group and Ministry of Defence in finalising the deal.


*Even within the IAF, the Staff Evaluation Report and the Technical Oversight Committee favoured the helicopter. Does the CBI want the country to believe that they were all bribed?


*The cabin height specification was changed at the instance of the SPG which wanted enough room for commandos to stand in the cabin. Why hold the former Air Chief responsible for this?


*Similarly the specification for maximum altitude at which the helicopters could fly was reduced from 6,000 feet to 4,500 feet because first, the VVIPs rarely flew above 4,000 feet in helicopters and also because the higher altitude would have left only one vendor in the bid. Why then is it deemed to be suspicious?

The Tyagis had confided earlier this year that neither the CBI nor the Enforcement Directorate ‘grilled’ them during 60 hours of questioning. They would have coffee and tea and walk on the corridor. But every evening the media would be alerted to photograph them leaving the buildings. All the agencies wanted, they admitted, were names of politicians they could implicate. The arrest of the former IAF chief seems to have more to do with politics than any investigation by the CBI or evidence of wrongdoing.


It is worth recalling that the Government had decided to buy eight VVIP helicopters in 1999. However in 2003 the then NSA Brajesh Mishra pointed out that neither the PMO nor the SPG had been consulted by the Defence Ministry. Subsequently the PMO and the SPG sought three deviations from the specifications regarding altitude, cabin height and delivery of 12 and not 8 helicopters.


These deviations were accepted in 2006 and the final order was placed on the Italian company in 2010. By 2013 the company had supplied three helicopters but following an Italian court holding the Finmeccanica CEO guilty of hiring middlemen and bribing Indian officials, the UPA Government cancelled the order, encashed the company’s bank guarantee, confiscated the three helicopters and ordered a CBI inquiry. It also blacklisted the company.

Following an Italian court holding the Finmeccanica CEO guilty of hiring middlemen and bribing Indian officials, the UPA Government cancelled the order, encashed the company’s bank guarantee, confiscated the three helicopters and ordered a CBI inquiry. It also blacklisted the company.


The NDA Government under Narendra Modi, however,


*Approved a joint venture between Finmeccanica and Tata, accepted the company as an Overseas partner under the “Make In India” programme and allowed the companies to bid for 100 Naval Utility helicopters.


*Issued a red corner notice in December, 2015 for one of the middlemen Christian Michel and sought his extradition from both UK and UAE.


*In April-May, 2016 Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar expressed confidence that the CBI would find out the money trail in a matter of weeks and insinuated that several UPA politicians and officials were involved in the ‘scam’.

The NDA Government under Narendra Modi approved a joint venture between Finmeccanica and Tata, accepted the company as an Overseas partner under the “Make In India” programme and allowed the companies to bid for 100 Naval Utility helicopters


*While Parrikar did not name anyone, he could be indicating any one or more of the following: The then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the then Defence Minister AK Antony, the then NSA MK Narayanan, the then SPG chief BV Wanchoo and the then Defence Secretary and the current CAG SK Sharma.


The Government, however, declined the demand by the Opposition for a Supreme Court monitored inquiry to be completed by three months.


The former Air Chief’s cousins, one of whom was arrested on Friday by the CBI, are known to have been close to both former Prime Minister Vajpayee and his son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.

If the CBI fails to come up with adequate and convincing evidence against the former Air Chief soon, the arrest could well turn into a political scandal. Worse, it would undermine the morale of the services.


The only incriminating fact to have emerged so far against the former Air Chief is his act in floating as many as five companies in 2011-12. But sources close to the family say that the companies dealt with real estate and not defence procurement. The cousins, they claim, had been working as Indian agents of Finmeccanica’s power projects since 1995 and had been regularly receiving commission from the company.


If the CBI fails to come up with adequate and convincing evidence against the former Air Chief soon, the arrest could well turn into a political scandal. Worse, it would undermine the morale of the services.

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Published: 10 Dec 2016, 4:00 PM