By Ranjit B Rai


New Delhi, 20 December 2006  


Large defence acquisitions in India like the HDW, Bofors, Denel, the Baraks from Israel and recently the $4b six Scorpene submarine deal with Armaris/Thales, have been mired in controversies, and this phenomenon is not peculiar to India alone. Mark Thatcher, son of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, and BAE in UK have both been subjected to inquires in large arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Chile, and have witnessed extensive media coverage for their purported involvements. So far nothing has come of them. The connivance of Roland Dumas Foreign Minister of France with oil giant Total, in the French Frigate sale to Taiwan stands proved, and Dumas lost his job but his jail sentence is in abeyance.

As of writing a controversy is still breathing in South Africa involving former Vice President Zuma, who was sacked by President Mbeike. In S Africa’s case Germany mysteriously bagged the four MEKO frigate deal, which was diverted from Spain, at the last moment. In South Africa an independent investigative agency called Scorpion, akin to India’s CBI has tabled its findings, and unsubstantiated snippets keep finding their way into the media, like the Scorpene deal in India, which is being investigated by CBI and is being linked to the now famous ‘Navy’s war room leak’. The list of cases of money taking in defence deals world over is large, and only in Japan in an unusual case, Prime Minister Tanaka spent time in jail for his involvement in the Lockheed bribery case.

It is well acknowledged that a percentage between 5 to 15% of the contract money is set aside towards clinching large defence deals in developing countries, as the acquisition process varies, and political parties expect cuts as it is they who decide out of multiple choices tabled by the Armed Forces. Normally, legally appointed agents facilitate the deal, but in 1986 Rajiv Gandhi had banned Defence Agents. Hence arms dealers, openly came into play and most of the big ones operated as NRIs with contacts in India. It needs noting, proving a case against NRIs whose world income is not subject to India’s Income tax laws is difficult, and also political parties invariably influence the investigations. In the case of Bofors the smaller amount of moneys that were paid abroad to late Win Chaddha were legitimate winding up Agency charges, and the Hindujas received their dues as retainers from Bofors, which the CBI tried in vain, to prove were commissions. It was AE Services of UK which negotiated the Bofors contract, and Quatrocchi who was earlier involved in commission taking in fertilizer and pipeline deals as per details revealed by a former CBI Jt Director B R Lall in his book, “Who Owns CBI”, got away with the large Bofors commissions. In early 2006 by the deputation of a law officer to London who released his moneys, the case has died a death, after millions were spent in investigating the case for over 20 years. In the Bofors or other cases not a single uniformed officer was found to be involved in money taking, and in the Tehelkha case the moneys that a few black sheep were tempted to take, were minor sums. They have been punished by courts martial, and matters closed and the Army deserves to be congratulated.

Long delays in disposing off the investigations in defence affects the morale of the services, as many innocent officers are called in to give evidence. It also invariably delays procurement due to black listing of supplier companies. This impinges on National Security. Luckily for the Governments that have guided India’s defence since the 90s, threats of war had receded, and yet it was the Bofors 155mm Howitzer that saved the day for India in the Kargil war. Both Israel and S Africa supplied much needed ammunition to ensure the Army could shell the Kargil heights, and S Africa’s Denel was readying to supply G5/6 155mm guns on lease if the Kargil war was prolonged. Today the nuclear, and more recently the missile equation with Pakistan makes all out war a remote possibility. India with its four times the defence budget of Pakistan has also out weaponised its neighbours, though the arms race breathes. This brings one to the current situation.

The $4b six Scorpene deal with the Armaris/Thales combine, has been put under CBI’s scanner, which could take ages. Emails, accusations and innuendoes of money taking with names have been brought out by the media especially by successive editions of Outlook including statements on TV, linking it with the War Room Leak of 2005. Three senior officers serving in the war room and one IAF officer were arbitrarily removed from service by the Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee under the same draconian Art 310 of the Indian Constitution, which was employed by George Fernandes to remove Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in 1998, under President’s powers, without inquiry. Late Justice Shah who contributed a lot to the writing of India’s constitution had warned Pandit Nehru not to include this hung over clause borrowed from the British into the Constitution, but Nehru fearing coups then rampant in our neighborhood, in Iraq and Egypt insisted. Justice Shah then requested Panditji to include the words that the President should be asked apply his mind before the article is enacted and Panditji retorted, that he did not wish to have a Presidential system of governance. The article stayed and at times has been used as a threat to make officers resign. The decision cannot be challenged in law except on technicalities and despite the Vishnu Bhagwat case, the procedure has not been defined, and so the Defence Minister has the sole power as enshrined in the 11th Schedule of powers of business. Public interest and individual litigations cases have been filed, and this has created a pall of gloom on the Navy’s morale. In fact Capt Kayshap Kumar dismissed under President’s Pleasure has been absolved by CBI, and this creates a piquant situation for the MOD and the Navy. It is hoped the procedure for use of this Article will now be redefined as the officer’s case  is now in court.

In the case of the Navy, it is true that smoke emitted from the war room and therefore there had to be a fire, but the media has reveled in its many analysis, and targeted individuals on hearsay, as no one knows how big the fire is. The ‘hanky panky’, by a few serving Navy and Air Force officer needs to be looked at in perspective, as it affects morale of the service in the eyes of the public. It now seems retired Lt Cdr Shankaran and his associate also a retired Lt Cdr Prashar have been the beneficiaries of some payments in foreign exchange, which only Shankaran can clarify, and with all the powers with the Government who have impounded his passport, Shankaran cannot be traced. This speaks poorly of our intelligence agencies and our rapport with Interpol which has a red corner alert. Indian Navy’s former CNS Admiral Arun Prakash whose wife is the aunt of Shakaran before demitting office, when asked a specific question on the war room leak case in a leading magazine, had this to say.

Q. Of late, there have been some news stories in certain sections of the press on issues which involve you. Does it affect you?

Answer. (laughs) “Once you have been given the responsibility of being the Chief of the Indian Navy and given the challenge of defending the maritime interests of the country, there is little time to think about other matters. However, let me state that whatever might come out in the press, the Indian Navy has always acted entirely in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law as laid down in our regulations, and in consultation with all concerned authorities. As far as I am concerned, my conscience is absolutely clear, or I would not be here today. My primary concern is the image of my Service and the morale of the men and women who work tirelessly day in and day out in the service of the nation. I would like to re-assure them through your magazine that a false and motivated campaign of disinformation by certain sections of the media cannot divert the Indian Navy’s focus on its primary task, which is to defend the maritime interests of our great country. Every individual in the Indian Navy is a part of this bigger picture and we need to get on with our task of making India a great maritime power. I am proud and happy doing my bit for the country and Indian Naval Forces”.

The Government needs to heed the words used by a former chief who was also the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee. The Government needs to take the case out of the CBI’s dilatory hands, like has happened in UK and Australia, appoint a Commission of Inquiry to quickly investigate the matter with CBI’s assistance and ensure that the War Room leak does not keep reappearing like Banquo’s ghost to haunt the fine Indian Navy.

In defence of the millions of dedicated officers of the armed forces and their morale, the investigation needs speedy disposal and the modality of employing Article 310 in the future needs to be approved by the Cabinet under Article 75 of the Constitution, or the Prime Minister the de facto C-in-C of the Armed Forces. This will ensure that the morale of the fine services does not suffer any further.

Disclaimer   Copyright