The Ministry of Defence has extended the last date for finalisation of contract in the procurement of 197 light utility helicopters by six months.

The procurement exercise, in which Russian Kamov Ka-226T and Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fenne choppers are involved in the final contest, had come under the scanner last year following allegations that an Indian Army brigadier tried to swing the deal in favour of one company. However, with the extension of the last date for finalization of contract to June end this year, the process has been kept alive.

Following the revelation that a brigadier had asked helicopter supplier AgustaWestland for money in lieu of getting it the deal, Army Chief General Bikram Singh had last April urged the Ministry of Defence to not proceed further with the Rs 3,000 crore deal for purchase of 197 LUH.

Since the Ministry of Defence had on January 1 this year cancelled the contract for supply of 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers with AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of European arms major Finmeccanica, in the wake of allegations of kickbacks worth nearly Rs 360 crore being paid to secure the Rs 3,546 crore contract, sources said the light utility helicopter deal could also be headed in the same direction.

Particularly so, because it was during the course of investigation into the VVIP chopper deal scam that the Italian investigators had stumbled upon documents suggesting that one “Brig Saini” had demanded $ 5 million for influencing the 197 LUH deal before the field trials.

These 197 helicopters were to be procured by the Army for undertaking missions for reconnaissance, patrol and casualty evacuation.

Incidentally, this is the second time that tendering for the process has been initiated. While in the first bid, India had in February 2007 selected the AS550 C3 Fennec over the Bell 407 helicopter, the deal was cancelled later the same year following allegations of corruption in the bidding process. The contract was then re-tendered.

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