“Shortage of equipment and ammunition is not a one-day affair”
Defence Minister A.K. Antony said in the Lok Sabha on Monday that the government had nothing to hide in the defence deals, including purchase of Tatra vehicles, and the government would not run away from responsibilities.
“The government is procuring these things as per the requirement of the Army only. We are not imposing anything on the Army. We have nothing to hide. I can answer all these questions very boldly, there is no problem in that,” he said replying to questions on the Tatra deal, procurement of helicopters from Eurocopter and Army Chief General V.K. Singh's letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on equipment for the Army.
Procurement since 1973
On the Tatra issue, he said the trucks were being procured since 1973. At that time, Czechoslovakia was one country. In the Nineties, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia also fragmented into two. As a result, in 1997, the government of that day decided to have again contract with the company. They had a new contract in 1997 with two countries – the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Again in 2003 there was another contract.
From 1986 to 2012, nearly 6,500 vehicles were purchased. Out of that, quoting special circumstances, in 1999, 2001, and 2002, nearly 1,950 vehicles were procured from Tatra. “Quoting the special need of ‘Operation Parakram' at that time, you purchased 1,950 trucks from Tatra. It is a fact,” Mr. Antony said looking at the BJP benches.
When there was change in the General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR), the Minister said, trial was on for purchase of vehicles and 14 foreign firms and six Indian companies were involved in it. “As per the trial, not a single Tatra truck is purchased. This is a fact.”
On the proposal to purchase 197 helicopters from Eurocopter for the Army and the Air Force, he said the deal was cancelled when the contract was about to be signed as his Ministry received a complaint from some persons that there were some malpractices in the trial. The complaint was later found out to be true following an inquiry.
Now a special technical oversight committee had been appointed to go into the purchase of 197 choppers. The government would proceed after verifying everything, he said. “If anything goes wrong, we will again cancel that [for chopper purchase].”
On the availability of modern equipment to the defence forces, which was raised by the Opposition parties, Mr. Antony said shortage of equipment and ammunition was not a one-day affair, “it is a historical thing.” During the Kargil war, India was importing equipment from Russia day to day. “So, it is not nothing new.”
‘One of the best'
“I do not defend that. We have to find out a solution. Our government has, for the last seven years, making serious efforts to find a solution to this. That is why, at the moment, even though here and there, there are deficiencies, the Indian armed forces are one of the best in the world. They are in great demand. All the countries want defence cooperation with our Ministry, all of them want joint exercises with our armed forces. At the moment, we have defence cooperation with 47 countries, including all the major powers. All of them want joint exercises with us.”
On the Army Chief's letter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Antony said there was nothing new in it. “The three Services chiefs write to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister occasionally whenever they felt that something was urgently in need. This time also, the present Army Chief wrote a letter to the Prime Minster in March. After that, I had two detailed meetings with the Army Chief, senior Army officials and Defence Ministry officials,” he said.
The Ministry was taking speedy decisions to find solutions to the shortages in certain critical areas. “But, by and large, our armed forces are self-sufficient; they are ready to face any challenges to protect our territories.”
According to a written reply tabled by the Minister in the House on the alleged irregularities in the Tatra deal, he said 6,477 trucks were purchased between 1987-88 and 2010-11. About 112 trucks were pending supplies. The CBI was requested to investigate comprehensively into the charge of bribe to the Chief of the Army Staff.