NEW DELHI: The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has hinted at a procurement scam in the highly sensitive National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), India’s most controversial technical intelligence outfit. It works directly under the Prime Minister’s Office and is spearheaded by the National Security Advisor. The current chairman, P V Kumar, manages the operations. Documents available with The Sunday Standard show that the CAG has “noticed lack of transparency and noncompliance of rules, misuse of official position and procedures in procurement of systems, stores, equipment and deficient procurement, resulting in cases of excess payment and wasteful expenditure.”
Financial irregularities have been found in the procurement of Communication Intelligence (COMINT) and satellite systems (SATCOM) and components for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). NTRO procured a sub-standard SATCOM system for the UAV platform, which was never demonstrated or offered for trial. It had acquired the system under project “Sampark”, whose encryption system had Chinese processors. When an outside expert pointed this out, the entire network, that cost approximately `20 crore, was shutdown, sources added, prompting serious questions on the security implications of such decisions.
NTRO’s top officials not only failed to detect and deter the scam, but also failed to take action when several officials faced departmental inquiry and were indicted. Senior officer H S Dhillon, against whom a departmental inquiry was on, was allowed to travel to Israel in February 2012. “He also handled the procurement process,” said a source.
At least six officials, including NTRO advisor M S Vijayaraghavan, Manoj Modi, Ruchi Chandra Srivastava and H S Dhillon are facing departmental inquiry. Vijayaraghavan, who used to handle the staff and administration wing of DRDO, was brought in as an advisor. Manoj Modi was a naval officer before joining the NTRO. The other two officials, Dhillon and Srivastava, were previously working in the Information & Broadcasting Ministry.
Several complaints related to these irregularities in procurement were sent to National Security Advisor in early 2011. A B Mathur, Secretary (Security) in the cabinet secretariat, was asked to probe the allegations in December 2011, after RAW chief Sanjeev Tripathi turned down the NSA’s request. “The NTRO case is already in the Supreme Court, and being the chief of the external spy agency, he (Tripathi) would like to keep himself out of any controversy related with another intelligence agency,” says a government source.The agency is facing the heat over illegal monitoring of telephone calls, since it has never been declared a monitoring agency by the government. NTRO was monitoring calls directly off cellphone towers in Delhi. It had netted millions of conversations at its four interception platforms: the equipment used had cost the agency `128 crore. It spent huge amounts of unaccounted taxpayer’s money on eavesdropping. After the scandal on illegal phone tapping of politicians in 2010 broke, Home Minister P Chidambaram clarified that NTRO is a technical organisation and not an intelligence unit.
It has also come to light that some NTRO officials are involved in an illegal recruitment scam. The agency has chargesheeted at least four officers on April 11, 2012. The action came after Supreme Court, hearing a PIL filed by V K Mittal, asked NTRO to submit an action taken report by April 16, 2012, observing bungling in the body.
Sources say no posts were advertised for contractual recruitment, which is mandatory as per Government of India rules. The rules also say contractual employees are recruited only as a stop-gap arrangement and have to be replaced within two years with regular staff. In NTRO, this was not the case. “Since contractual employees are hired arbitrarily by the agency without proper background check, it also leads to serious security implications as they are privy to sensitive intelligence information,” sources added.
The Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG), through an RTI reply dated February 29, 2012, had admitted of cases of appointment of ineligible candidates and lack of transparency in recruitment in the NTRO.