SC Reserves Judgment In PIL On Chhattisgarh's VIP Chopper Deal

SC Reserves Judgment In PIL On Chhattisgarh

The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, concluded the hearing and reserved judgment in a PIL seeking CBI investigation in the purchase of a VIP Helicopter manufactured by AgustaWestland by the Chhattisgarh Government.

The judgment was reserved by a Bench comprising Justice A.K. Goel and Justice U.U. Lalit on Petitions filed by Swaraj Abhiyan and a few others, alleging that a VIP helicopter was purchased by the State in a "dubious manner by floating a sham tender", contending that one person represented all the three competitive bidders. The deal, they contend, caused a huge loss to the state exchequer.

The Petitions allege violation of the Chhattisgarh Procurement Rules, contending that the tender was floated despite there being no decision on why the State must purchase only that particular model of the company. The original proposal, they claim, had suggested that proposals be invited from different manufacturing companies. The Chief Secretary Aviation Dept., Mr. S.V. Prabhat, they say, had in fact approved a proposal to publish a global NIT for any helicopter with required specifications, without mentioning the name of a particular company or model. They allege that despite this, the tender issued and published was only with respect to Agusta A-109 Power (Elite).

In response to the Tender, five proposals were received, out of which three were from Agusta’s Hong Kong-based dealer Sharp Ocean, Agusta’s India-based maintenance service provider OSS and AgustaWestland itself, and were handled by the same person, Mr. V. Krishnan. The other two bids by Bell and Eurocopter, they say, were not considered. The Government decided to purchase the helicopter from Sharp Ocean at $6.57 million, of which close to $5 million was the price payable to AgustaWestland and the rest was Sharp Ocean’s commission. The pre-sold helicopter was pre-booked by Serum Institute, owned by industrialist Cyrus Poonawala, in 2006.

The Petitions now rely on documents procured through RTI to further contend that the payment of 1.324 million dollars was made over and above the price of the helicopter. They claim that the States of Jharkhand and Rajasthan also purchased Agusta A109 Power without any tender around the same time, but at a lower price. They, nevertheless, seek an inquiry into similar purchases made by several other States such as Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jharkhand.

The Petitions seek investigation into the role of Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh Mr. Raman Singh's son, Mr. Abhishek Singh in the impugned deal as well. They contend that an offshore bank account in Abhishek's name had been opened in British Virgin Islands, which is a tax haven, in July, 2008, which was around the same time when the helicopter was purchased. The Petitions then rely on information revealed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) website to contend that the address for the said account was actually Mr. Raman Singh's permanent address.

"There is a strong possibility that the money paid as commission in this deal as well as in other similar transactions have ultimately reached to this bank account of “Abhishek Singh”," the Petitions allege.