India’s efforts to procure 197 Light Utility Helicopters (LUHs) to replace its Army and Air Force ageing Chetaks and Cheetah choppers fleet has got into trouble again. This is the second military helicopters procurement plan that is in the dock this year after the VVIP chopper scandal.
Army chief General Bikram Singh told a Ministry of Defence (MoD) panel on Tuesday that a decision on the ` 15,000-crore LUH tender should be taken only after a probe is conducted into the allegations of a serving Army Brigadier demanding a Rs 25 crore-bribe from Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland to keep it in the race.
The Defence Minister A K Antony-headed Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had taken up the LUHs tender for a final decision at its meeting, but General Singh requested that the call be taken after the probe.
The allegations against Brigadier V S Saini came out during an Italian probe into the affairs of its defence major Finmeccanica and its subsidiary AgustaWestland, which is in the dock over allegations of engaging middlemen and paying bribes to swing the Rs 3,546-crore VVIP helicopters deal. AgustaWestland was ultimately eliminated from the race. Brigadier Saini was a member of a committee that evaluated the competing helicopters in the LUH tender.
European firm Eurocopter’s AS550-C3 and Russian Kamov’s Ka-226 are the two helicopters in the fray.
Though its chief has sought to hold a probe, the Army is unsure on how to proceed with the investigation, as the allegations emerged from Italy and the Army headquarters is not empowered to deal with diplomatic issues in the probe.
“The bottom line is that there will be a probe. How to go about the investigation -- by the Army, MoD or CBI -- will be thrashed out between the ministry and the Army headquarters before a decision is taken,” a senior Army officer told Express.