Congress alleges Agusta chopper ‘scam’ in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh

Facing heat over the alleged AgustaWestland chopper scam during the UPA rule at the Centre, Congress in Chhattisgarh accused the BJP government of committing irregularities in procurement of a helicopter by the same Italian company for the State in 2007.
The ruling BJP, however, rejected the main Opposition party’s charge as “politically motivated and baseless”.
Citing a report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) presented in 2011, Chhattisgarh Congress President Bhupesh Baghel alleged the government led by Chief Minister Raman Singh had ignored all norms to favour AgustaWestland for purchasing the chopper in 2007.
The Chhattisgarh government bought Agusta A-109 power helicopter from AgustaWestland in 2007 for USD 6.5 million.
The CAG, in its audit report for the year ended March 31, 2011, said failure of the Aviation Department to finalise the first offer for purchase of Agusta A-109 within the due date and its subsequent procurement at higher rate led to extra expenditure of Rs 65 lakh, he said, citing the finding.
Earlier, instead of calling tender as per Store Purchase rules, the government approved relaxation from calling global tender on the ground the helicopter was a specialised product.
Later, a tender was floated for a specific model of chopper in which only AgustaWestland was qualifying, Baghel said.
The chopper, a model of which was procured by the Jharkhand government from the same company at a cost of USD 5.59 million, was bought by Chhattisgarh for USD 6.5 million, which clearly indicates misappropriation in the acquisition process, the Congress leader added.
According to the CAG report, the deal was finalised with a dealer at Hong Kong in February 2007 to supply the helicopter at USD 6.1 million.
The dealer intimated (in March 2007) that the purchase contract would be signed directly between the Chhattisgarh government and the manufacturer (Agusta) and assured delivery by September 2007.
However, the state government in April 2007 asked the company to curtail the price to USD 5.59 million (at which it supplied the same model chopper to Jharkhand (in 2005-06). The company, however, refused and the proposal was cancelled.
The government later floated a global tender and finalised the deal with the same company for USD 6.5 million, causing heavy losses to the state exchequer, he said.
Meanwhile, the state government refuted the Congress charge, dubbing it as “politically motivated”.
“The allegations levelled by Congress are baseless. The helicopter deal was done through a global tendering process while maintaining full transparency,” Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Ajay Chandrakar said.
The CAG report had underlined that the reply of the Government on the issue was not acceptable as it failed to finalise the first offer in time, Baghel said.
Purchasing the same brand and model of helicopter from the same company at higher price led to extra expenditure, he said and added Prime Minister Narendra Modi should get the deal investigated.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Chhattisgarh Assembly had examined the facts after the issue was raised by the CAG. Later, the government submitted a factual report over the issue to the CAG, the Minister added.
“Congress is facing serious corruption charges over the chopper deal at the Centre and therefore levelling baseless allegations (in Chhattisgarh) to divert people’s attention from the main issue,” Chandrakar added.