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Armed forces personnel worried over former IAF chief ACM Tyagi made a scapegoat

"The arrest of the former Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi on December 16 casts a shadow on the armed forces in general and in particular the IAF. This arm of the three armed forces urgently needs to replace squadrons with modern fighter aircraft to keep pace with modern times. This is the first instance of a serving or retired military chief being arrested on charges of corruption. The CBI arrested ACM Tyagi, his cousin Sanjeev Tyagi and lawyer Gautam Khaitan in connection with the purchase order for VVIP helicopters in 2010.  The country's premier investigative agency said in an official statement that those arrested were in connection with alleged irregularities in the procurement of a dozen AW101 VVIP helicopters from the UK based Agusta Westland, part of the Italian consortium Finmeccanica. The CBI claims that ACM Tyagi entered into a ""criminal conspiracy with other accused persons in 2005"" to change the service ceiling of the VVIP helicopters from 6000 M to 4500 M to make Agusta Westland eligible to participate in the tender. Twelve per cent of the total deal of Rs 3,767 crores is alleged to have been the commission involved. After the allegations first emerged in Italy, an embattled Congress led UPA government had moved swiftly to order an investigation in February 2013. The Congress led UPA government rescinded the contract in January 2014 in the wake of the bribery allegations. The case was handed over to the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate which in turn have relied substantially on the evidence from Italian courts. What has raised eyebrows is the appointment of Rakesh Asthana, a senior Indian Police Service officer of the Gujarat cadre, as the new interim chief of the CBI and the quick fire arrest thereafter of ACM Tyagi.ACM Tyagi's arrest has serious ramifications for the IAF's modernisation programme which may get delayed further which this combat arm of the country cannot afford. Already bureaucrats in the Defence ministry have shown a penchant for dragging their feet and delaying fresh acquisition for the armed forces as they do not want to be enmeshed in a controversy.In the VVIP choppers controversy the matter encompasses the Prime Minister's office since the time of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Needless to say the CBI has an onerous task on its hands and any messing up can adversely affect defence purchases. The case in Italy had its own twists and turns with a lower court acquitting ACM Tyagi in October 2014, Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi and others of corruption charges.Earlier this year on April 8, the Milan Court of Appeal overturned the order and sentenced Mr Orsi to about four years in jail. This is not the first time the name of a retired military chief has come up in a defence scandal. Admiral S M Nanda was accused of being a middle man in the sale of German-made HDW submarines to India in the early 1980s. Two decades later the case was formally closed by the CBI as it had found no concrete evidence.In 2006 the CBI filed an FIR alleging kickbacks in the purchase of the Barrack missile system from Israel, naming among others Admiral Sushil Kumar, the former Chief of the Naval Staff. He contested the charge using the RTI. Seven years later the CBI told a Delhi court it couldn't find any evidence. It might, therefore, be premature to blame ACM Tyagi of wrongdoing as the truth needs to come out to set the record straight. Defence deals invariably get complicated due to the difficulties in securing the evidence required for convictions. It remains to be seen how this case pans out. The question that has arisen after ACM Tyagi's arrest pertains to the IAF's consistent stand that 6000 M ceiling of VVIP helicopters was an inescapable operational necessity, then who reduced it to 4500 M and why. The helicopter was for use by VVIPs and not the IAF. The user representatives were the Prime Minister's office (PMO) and the Special Protection Group (SPG). The technical paramaters (TPs) such as ceiling heights, endurance, load carrying capacity, number of engines that the helicopter needs to possess are worked out based on the qualitative requirements (QRs). Additionally air safety requirements are factored in to match the QRs while scripting the TPs which do not emerge out of the blue.Senior officials believe available evidence does not support the allegation that ACM Tyagi himself had conceded to change the operational requirements. There were many others involved in the decision making process. The arrest of the former Air Chief seems like an orchestrated attempt to make him a scape goat. The Defence Procurement Procedures have been modified a number of times. At the same time no questions have been raised why non-technical bureaucrats meant to implement political decisions are involved in the procurement of high technology weapons and equipment for the three Servies. It is perplexing that there is no independent body for this purpose. It is argued if ACM Tyagi is guilty then punish him but the country cannot have a situation where the politicians and the bureaucrats who appear to be the bigger fish guilty of corruption are allowed to go scot free while a former chief of a major combat service is punished. At present the IAF has only 32 squadrons, the lowest in a decade to guard the skies. Raksha mantri Manohar Parrikar had expressed concern in this regard to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the difficulties faced by the IAF because of the depletion of fighter aircraft. The country needs at least 42 squadrons to protect its western borders with Pakistan and China. The IAF presently depends on Su 30MKI and MiG 29, the British made Jaguar and the French made Mirage 2000s. An upgrade of Jaguar fighters is being carried out by the public sector HAL which has got delayed. The next Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal B S Dhanoa had acknowledged earlier this year that the current strength of aircraft squadrons is not enough to fight a war on two fronts. ""Our numbers are not enough to fight a war on two fronts,"" the Vice Chief observed. He had said the government was seized of the problem and that is why India went for a government-to-government deal in respect of 36 French Rafale aircraft because of the urgency. In a first of its kind, the veteran community of the armed forces and majority of the Indian populace is petitioning President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi being incensed with the treatment meted out to ACM Tyagi. The petition observed the distinguished fighter pilot who has fought two wars for this country and led the IAF is being condemned to prison without a conclusive inquiry or fair trial. This is a disrespectful way of dealing with the case and smacks of an attempt to demean and destroy the honour of the Armed Forces.  ACM Tyagi has already spent more than 300 hours answering questions. They appealed to the government to undo this damage caused to the morale of the armed forces with the immediate release of Ex ACM Tyagi, the petition added. (T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal.)"

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