AgustaWestland: Why did UPA go to Italy, when it could have shopped in Hyderabad

Vicky Nanjappa

New Delhi, Dec 7: One of the main allegations made in the AugustaWestland case was that middleman, James Christian Michel had deliberately disqualified the competition.

Michel was aware that the AgustaWestland chopper was not catering to certain requirements that included ceiling and cabin height.

The main competitor was from Sikorsky which had entered into a joint venture with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. The Tata Advanced Systems Ltd India and Sikorsky Aircraft Company USA based in Hyderabad entered into a joint venture to manufacture 4,000 parts for the S92 helicopter cabins.

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The allegation is that the UPA government had decided to go ahead with AgustaWestland, despite Sikorsky putting out a lower tender. Further some of the requirements that AgustaWestland did not cater to such as ceiling height and cabin height would have been fulfilled by Sikorsky, which makes the S-92s which is used by the President of the United States of America.

Why did India go with AgustaWestland, an anglo-Italian firm instead of choppers that could have been provided to us from Hyderabad, asks Air Marshal (Retd), B K Pandey.

Pandey tells OneIndia that these choppers were meant for transportation of VVIPs. The entire exercise was controlled by the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry for Defence.

AgustaWestland did have a problem with both the cabin and ceiling height and this was one of the reasons it was unable to compete. The PMO had said then to change the ceiling and cabin height requirements so that AgustaWestland could come back into the competition.

B K Pandey says that the irony is that the S-92 helicopters which was the competition is being manufactured by Tata Advanced Systems Ltd in Hyderabad. They have a collaboration with Sikorsky. The S-92 airframes are being manufactured since 2009 and the President of the United States uses this chopper. The question is why did we go to Italy, when we could have shopped in Hyderabad, asks Pandey.

The other question is if the S-92s were cheaper and also fulfilling the requirements, then why did the government go in for AugustaWestland, he also asks.

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The bigger problem:

Pandey says that the AgustaWestland is a heavy chopper with three engines. There are assets no doubt, but the problem here is something else. There are three elements- the company, the equipment and the people who man the company.

In these three, there could be a deficiency in any of the elements. If the deficiency was with the company then it could have been rectified. Blacklisting AgustaWestland by the then Defence Minister, A K Antony was a wrong step. You are a prisoners of the global aircraft industry and in this context Antony did severe damage by blacklisting. It was a totally flawed decision and cancelling the tender was not required.Instead the deficiency could have been rectified, Pandey also says.

Disqualifying the competition:

The Central Bureau of Investigation which is currently questioning Michel says that he had made over 100 visits to India to disqualify the competition. He visited India at least 100 times since 1993, during which he built contacts within the government. Sources tell OneIndia that he had built such strong links with the government that is alleged to have confidential defence files in his possession.

He also had documents relating to the Cabinet Committee on Security. The biggest challenge for Michel was to ensure that a competitor did not bag this deal.

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AgustaWestland was facing stiff competition from M/S Sikorsky. The problem for Michel was that Sikorsky was quoting a much lower price and almost bagged the deal.

Michel made an early visit to India and tried to deliberately disqualify the competition.

The investigations that were conducted further in this regard showed that Sikorsky was disqualified in the trial stage itself. The un-opened commercial bid that was submitted in February 2007 was returned by the Defence Ministry back then. He also used his contacts to ensure that the financial bids of Sikorsky were not opened.

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