On the eve of budget session of Parliament, which promises to begin on a stormy note with the Opposition appearing determined to corner the UPA government on allegations of kickbacks in the Rs. 3,600-crore VVIP chopper deal, Defence Minister A.K. Antony lamented that corrupt practices were taking place despite the government taking precautions and blacklisting six major defence firms, including four foreign vendors.
In an obvious reference to the allegations of kickbacks to the tune of Rs. 362 crore in the 2010 chopper deal with AgustaWestland, the Minister said the government would have to further tighten the mechanism of defence procurement and depend less on imports.
“Whenever allegations are made, we have to go to the root and find the truth and punish the guilty. We cannot waste a single penny of Indian taxpayers’ money for greedy players,” Mr. Antony said.
He said that indigenisation of military hardware was the “ultimate answer” to avoid controversies such as the VVIP chopper scam and asked the armed forces to change their mindset of relying on imports to meet operational requirements.
“The need to maintain transparency, honesty and sincerity at every stage cannot be compromised. In spite of our taking so many precautions, again here and there things are happening,’’ Mr. Antony said on Wednesday while addressing a seminar here on Army Air defence in 21st century.
Referring to the arms middleman Abhishek Verma, who remains in jail after the Defence Minister referred to the probe agencies allegations about his involvement, Mr. Antony said that even after this “there are people who are not learning lessons.”
On the demand from the Defence Committee of the Confederation of Indian Industry for more government support, the Minister said that he agreed with it, especially after the recent controversy. “… the ultimate answer is maximum indigenisation. Depending too much on imports is not the solution.”
Mr. Antony said the government would have a “second look” at its defence production policy as well as the procurement policy so that indigenisation could be speeded up in “mission mode.”
While stressing that the armed forces must get the maximum support for speedy modernisation, he said, “The Security scenario around us is so volatile that we cannot take any risk. We are living in dangerous surroundings, so armed forces need most modern equipment at the earliest.”
“But see what is happening sometimes. At the last moment we have to reverse the process because of the foul play. We are back to square one,” he said. He added that the armed forces should ensure that “import is the last resort not the easiest resort. That mindset you must change. Priority should be given to indigenisation. Zero import is not possible but maximum should be indigenous. New thrust will be given to self-reliance,” he said.