Rajya Sabha witnessed sharp exchange between the ruling BJP and the principal opposition Congress on Wednesday as it debated the AgustaWestland controversy. The issue has led to a heated tiff between the two since last week following media reports of an Italian court, which convicted AgustaWestland chief Giuseppe Orsi, reportedly observing alleged payment of bribes to top Congress leaders to bag the Rs. 3,600 crore deal.
Putting up a stout defense, senior Congress leader and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s top aide Ahmed Patel, who is incidentally facing heat in the controversy, took on the ruling party to drag his name in the controversy.
Speaking on the floor of the Upper house, Ahmed Patel said “I will resign and quit public life if you find an iota of truth in the allegation against me”.
“It is proved beyond doubt there was corruption in chopper deal. Act now… If you have all evidence, take action but don’t threaten us, don’t blackmail us,” added former Union Defense minister AK Antony as he too participated in debate.
Earlier, initiating the debate at 2 PM, BJP’s Bhupender Yadav alleged that previous Congress-ruled UPA gave a “back door entry” to the AgustaWestland by tweaking benchmarks to award contract to purchase 12 VVIP helicopters. “The truth must come out…” he stressed.
“Norms were repeatedly modified, even after over-ruling reservations expressed by Antony and Manmohan Singh,” Yadav said adding that a recommendation had been made to change the MI-8 helicopters for VVIP travel in 1999 when NDA was in power and it was emphasised that the procurement should not be done through a single vendor system.
Responding point by point to BJP’s allegations, Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi said that not a single allegation that was being touted was part of CBI or ED findings. “The interest appears to be to keep the pot boiling, not to reach a conclusion and keep finger pointing,” he stressed.
“We are relying on the interpretations and misrepresentations of an Italian court,” Singhvi said adding the official translation of the judgement is still not available.
Raising questions as to why the NDA government had allowed AgustaWestland’s parent companies, including Finmeccanica, to continue to do business, Singhvi told the house that former Defense minister AK Antony had cancelled the deal and ordered CBI probe.
“The UPA government had paid Rs 1586 crore but recovered Rs 2062 cr from AgustaWestland besides 3 helicopters worth Rs 900 crore were impounded,” Singhvi added.
Earlier in the debate, quoting extensively from a CAG report on the matter, BJP MP Bhupendra Yadav claimed that the single-vendor aspect was ignored, tests were allowed to be conducted abroad and even the specifications of altitude were reduced to 4500 feet from the earlier benchmark of 6000 feet.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, however, mentioned that it was Brajesh Mishra, the Principal Secretary to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had mentioned that a specification of 6000 feet should be reduced as it was leading to a single vendor situation.
The tempers rose further as nominated member Subramanian Swamy participated in the debate making allegations against the top leadership of Congress party.