NEW DELHI: On March 13, in a media interview, Army Chief General V K Singh first raised the issue of corruption in the Defense procurement system. However, one major issue that got lost in the din of ‘Tatra truck bribe offer’ controversy was his accusations of graft in the procurement of full-body truck scanners (FBTS) for the Army.
He was quoted as saying, “For a decade we have been unable to procure a full-body truck scanner as every time we are about to close the deal, there are allegations of corruption.” An FBTS is used to detect hidden arms, ammunition, explosives, counterfeit currency, and contraband without unloading or unpacking the cargo.
A series of documents in Express’ possession explains why the world’s biggest arms exporter for the past eight years failed to buy the required scanners. In 2010 only one vendor - American company M/S American Science & Engineering Inc (ASE) - was asked to submit its proposal by the Technical Manager, Land System of Ministry of Defence, despite the existence of several other manufacturers in the market.
A request for information (RFI) for the FBTS was issued on May 6, 2010 by Directorate General of Military Intelligence. This proposal was cancelled after a USA-based company, Rapiscan Systems alleged irregularities in the procurement process and complained to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) about manipulation in the process.
The bone of contention is a request for proposal issued by the MoD in July 2010 to the American company ASE.
In this letter, the MoD wrote: “The Government of India invites responses to this request only from M/S American Science and Engineering, USA. The end user of the full body truck scanner is the Indian Army.” When the details were sought from the interested companies through the RFI in May, 2010, nowhere was it mentioned as propriety article.
The July letter of the MoD to the ASE prompted a complaint to the CVC by Rapiscan systems.
Then, six other manufacturers of the FBTS were issued initial RFIs. They are Bangalore-based Bharat Electronics Limited; New York-based L3 Communications, which has an exclusive collaboration with the HCL technology for scanning devices, Smiths Detection, a part of the UK-based global technology business, which formed a new company with Veecon Systems India as partner for Indian sales and services and Rapiscan, which has a collaboration agreement with Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) that had set up a joint venture ‘ECIL Rapiscan Ltd’; AS&E, a US-based company with no agent or partner in India; and Nuctech, a Chinabased security equipment manufacturer.
In a letter dated November 1, 2010, to the then Chief Vigilance Commissioner, P J Thomas, Rapiscan Cargo sales director Ian Williams alleged, “It is pertinent to place on record that the Request for Proposal issued to the only vendor seemingly justifies this egregious violation of norms by citing the need for a particular technology namely combination of X-ray and backscatter transmission of vehicle to be inspected.
This specification has no mention in the initial request for information.” Williams also stated that some of the operational requirements, which had been called for the RFI have been diluted and withdrawn, possibly to favour the particular vendor. Since 2004, all tenders related to the FBTS were anyway being cancelled by the defence ministry, after initiating the process by it.