Even as the country awaits the CBI findings on the VVIP chopper scam before taking a final decision on blacklisting Italian firm AgustaWestland, Union Defence Minister A K Antony on Thursday defended the Ministry of Defence (MoD)decision to ban the arms companies named in the corruption probes, saying it has had no adverse impact on the armed forces’ modernisation.
Speaking to reporters at a news briefing at the DefExpo-2014 here, Antony said the decision had been a “blessing in disguise” since it will pave the way for indigenously produced weapon systems for the country’s armed forces.
He also blamed the shortage of funds and “complaints” regarding the Life Cycle Cost(LCC) calculations for the ‘mother of all deals’ for the 126 combat planes not being signed in the 2013-14 fiscal, despite the French Rafale being picked as the winner of the `one lakh crore tender two years ago.
“Wait for two-three months. After April, in the new fiscal, the deal will materialise. In fact, there are many procurements in the pipeline,” he said, adding that the deal for the six additional C-130J special forces planes, from Lockheed Martin, approved for `4,000 crore last year, could not also be signed in this fiscal due to the paucity of funds.
According to Antony, there was no basis for the view that the ban imposed by the MoD had stunted the modernisation efforts of the armed forces. Instead, it had helped the country to strengthen the procurement system and to make it transparent.“Now a clear-cut signal has gone out to the industry, both domestic and foreign. In India’s defence sector, everybody will get equal opportunity. If their product is good and if the prices are low, there is no need for lobbying. It is a clear message that there will be no political interference in defence procurement and it will be done only on the basis of merit,” he said.
Sending out a clear message, the Defence Minister said if anybody was found guilty of lobbying, the punishment would be severe.
To buttress the point that the ban on the defence firms named in the corruption cases had helped the country, he gave the example of the firm – without naming the Israeli Military Industries– which was blacklisted after its name cropped up in the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) scam investigated by the CBI.