Agusta Westland deal: Chhattisgarh govt need to answer few questions, says Supreme Court
The Supreme Court today said it wanted the Chhattisgarh government to answer a few questions on the purchase of a AgustaWestland helicopter for VIP...
The Supreme Court today said it wanted the Chhattisgarh government to answer a few questions on the purchase of a AgustaWestland helicopter for VIP use in 2006-2007 as it was only concerned whether any "fraud or hanky-panky" was committed.
The top court said it was not questioning the choice of the helicopter made by the state government as it was an executive decision, but wanted it to explain the bid for the chopper. A bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit said there were few questions which the state government needed to answer and it may order probe only if the court was satisfied that some wrong has been committed.
"You (state government) need to answer few questions, like explain the alleged sham bid, why only that particular helicopter, opening of foreign bank account by son of the Chief Minister at the time of bidding process," the bench said.
"We are only concerned whether there was any fraud or hanky-panky committed on public exchequer. Nothing more or nothing less," it said. The bench said if it found that there was nothing wrong, then it will close the case. The court was hearing a plea seeking investigation into the alleged irregularities in the purchase of the helicopter and also foreign bank accounts purportedly linked to the son of Chief Minister Raman Singh.
At the outset, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for petitioner NGO Swaraj Abhiyan and leader of opposition and Congress leader T S Singhdeo, said that the documents received under the RTI show that although Bell helicopter was denied bid, the government was still hiring it on rent. He said the petitioners would like to reply to the affidavit filed by the state government. Senior advocates Mahesh Jethmalani and Harish Salve, who appeared for the state government, said there was nothing wrong in the bid and at present, 24 AgustaWestland helicopters were flying in the country.
AgustaWestland SpA was an Italian helicopter design and manufacturing company and a wholly owned subsidiary of Finmeccanica SpA, now called Leonardo. It was formed in July 2000 as an Anglo-Italian multinational company. "The state government was not satisfied with Eurocopter as on July 14, 2007. It had crashed and two pilots were killed," Jethmalani said, justifying the bidding process.
He said at that time, the existing helicopter was four years old and incurring huge cost on maintenance and servicing with replacement of its components.
The bench said it trusted the choice of the executive but only wanted to see whether there were any "extraneous reasons" for the particular choice of helicopter. It asked Bhushan to file a reply on the affidavit and posted the matter for further hearing on January 18. At the fag end of hearing, Salve said although they have handed over the government records to the petitioners to enable them file the reply, these documents should not find their way to the media.
Justice Lalit then asked Bhushan to ensure that the documents do not exchange hands.During the hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal, who had during the last hearing, raised objections over cabinet file notings filed in the PIL and said if the documents were given by state government under RTI, then he does not wish to press his objections.
"You see all these documents are given under RTI. Your grievances are now addressed Mr. Attorney General. This is quiet a transparent government," the bench said on a lighter note. The apex court had on November 16 put some searching questions to the state government on the purchase of the Agusta helicopter and directed it to place the original files relating to the deal. It had asked the state government why a global tender was issued only for the purchase of one AgustaWestland chopper and how the recommendation of then state chief secretary to invite tenders from all the companies was "overturned".