More noise than light

April 29, 2016 12:57 am | Updated November 26, 2021 10:20 pm IST

Regrettably, though perhaps not surprisingly, the debate in Parliament on the >2010 AgustaWestland helicopter deal produced more noise than light. The real issues relating to this controversial deal are somewhat self-evident, even if they were swamped by the furious and self-serving cut and thrust of words exchanged between BJP and Congress MPs. To begin with, the fact that a Milan appeals court has convicted two former top officials — of Finmeccanica and its helicopter subsidiary AgustaWestland — of corruption and over-invoicing in connection with the agreement to sell 12 >VVIP helicopters to India cannot be brushed aside as trifling or irrelevant, merely because the deal was cancelled. While the documents submitted to the Italian court, which name >Congress president Sonia Gandhi , former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other advisers, are by no means clinching evidence of their guilt (as their detractors may like to make out), they certainly raise enough questions that deserve to be assiduously investigated. Despite avowals by the UPA of working in accordance with procedure to prosecute those who had facilitated the deal, the previous government did little to take the investigation further. Equally questionable is the NDA government’s own record in pursuing the case, which seems to have sped up only now, after the Milan high court overturned the lower court’s partial acquittal of Finmeccanica officials. The Centre’s stand that it was awaiting the completion of the appeals process in Italy before acting holds no water, as the appeals process is still ongoing and the case is expected to go to Italy’s Supreme Court.

At this juncture, it is only logical that the Centre welcomes all information, particularly when it is offered by key players, rather than shoot at the messenger. In this connection, it is especially unfortunate that someone with the sagacity and level-headedness of Arun Jaitley, who is the Minister of Information and Broadcasting to boot, should have imputed political motives to The Hindu for carrying an >exclusive interview with alleged middleman Christian Michel , in reply to a question from a Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha. To deny Mr. Michel’s sensationalist contention, made also to an international tribunal in The Hague, that Prime Minister Modi tried to strike a deal with his Italian counterpart over AgustaWestland is one thing. But surely, if the Centre is committed to uncovering the truth about the helicopter deal, it was even more important to signal clearly that the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation would waste no time in pursuing Mr. Michel’s offer to be interrogated. Eradicating corruption from the defence sector is a necessity, not just for saving taxpayer money but also to uphold the country’s battlefield preparedness. Equipment bought on compromised quality standards can have untold consequences at critical moments. India must shed its reputation as the playground for corrupt middlemen. The AgustaWestland deal is an opportunity to work towards this goal.

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