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The General’s other forgotten truck bomb

The nation may have been jolted by Gen VK Singh\'s Tatra charges, but failed to notice another deal pointed out by him.

Published: 29th April 2012 12:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 10:33 PM   |  A+A-

ARMY

General VK Singh

NEW DELHI: It was almost two months ago that outgoing Army Chief General VK Singh first raised the issue of corruption in defence procurements. Tatra trucks became the instant flavour of corruption but lost in the din of the chief’s accusation of graft in the procurement of full-body truck scanners (FTBS) for the Indian Army. Gen. Singh He was quoted as saying, “For a decade we have been unable to procure a FTBS because every time we are about to close the deal, there are allegations of corruption.”

A FBTS is used to detect hidden arms, ammunition, explosives, counterfeit currency and contraband, without unloading or unpacking the cargo.

A series of documents in the possession of The Sunday Standard explain why the world’s biggest arms exporter has for eight years failed to buy the scanners. In 2010 only one vendor—American firm M/S American Science & Engineering Inc (ASE)—was asked to submit its proposal by the Technical Manager, Land Systems, of Ministry of Defence (MoD), despite the existence of several other manufacturers in the market. A Request for Information (RFI) for the FTBS was issued on May 6, 2010 by Directorate General of Military Intelligence.

This proposal was cancelled after a California-based company, Rapiscan Systems, alleged irregularities in the procurement process and complained to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) about them. The bone of contention is a request for proposal issued by the MoD in July 2010 to US company ASE. The MoD proposal says, “The Government of India invites responses to this request only from M/S ASE, USA. The end user of the FTBS is the Indian Army.” When the details were sought from the interested companies through a RFI in May 2010, nowhere was it mentioned as a propriety article. MoD’s July letter to ASE prompted the complaint to the CVC by Rapiscan Systems.

Then, six other manufacturers of FBTS were issued initial RFIs. They are:

Bangalore-based Bharat Electronics Limited; New York-based L3 Communications which has an exclusive collaboration with HCL Technology for scanning devices; Smiths Detection, part of a UK-based global technology business that formed a new company with Veecon Systems India as partner for Indian sales and services; and Rapiscan Systems that collaborated with Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) to set up a joint venture called ECIL Rapiscan Ltd; ASE, the US-based firm with no agent or partner in India; and Nuctech, a China-based security equipment manufacturer.

In a letter dated November 1, 2010 to then-CVC P J Thomas, Rapiscan Cargo Sales Director Ian Williams said, “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 a combination of X-ray and backscatter transmission of a vehicle to be inspected. This specification has no mention in the initial RFI.” In his letter, Williams also stated that some of the operational requirements, which had been called for in the RFI, have been diluted or withdrawn, possibly to favour the particular vendor. Since 2004, all tenders related to FBTS were anyway being cancelled by the ministry, after initiating the process itself.

The FBTS procurement is an unfolding saga of failure, tainted further by graft allegations. The first RFI was issued on March 11, 2004 by the Technical Manager (Land System). The tender was cancelled without notice. The second RFI for the scanners was issued on August 3, 2005. This too was cancelled without notice. There were clear differences between requirements of the Army in 2004 and again in 2005, in both tenders. This could possibly be explained as technology being constantly under evaluation. Instead of upgrading from 2004, the requirement and specification were inexplicably downgraded in 2005. For example, the penetration depth of the X-ray system in the proposal was 150 mm of steel. In 2005, it was downgraded to 75 mm. After the fiasco and allegations in 2010, Director General of Military Intelligence on February 21, 2012, issued another RFI for FTBS, prompting Gen V K Singh to comment on this particular procurement.

The MoD’s inability to manage the problem is hurting part of the army procurement process. The very first integrated Indo-Pak checkpost was inaugurated on April 13 this year at Attari to promote bilateral trade with Pakistan, but it lacks FBTS, making life easier for smugglers and potential terrorists. Neither the Army nor ASE are willing to comment. A detailed questionnaire sent to the Army regarding FBTS and issues of procurement, remains unanswered. Another questionnaire sent to Rapiscan Systems Company Director Ian Williams also needs to be answered.



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