India’s ‘Mr Clean’ embroiled in arms scam
By Iftikhar Gilani
NEW DELHI: A recently released report by a judicial commission that investigated various defence deals has unearthed skeletons in the cupboard of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav in a massive Sukhoi-MK aircraft purchase deal.
The Justice Pukhan Commission was formed by the previous Atal Behari Vajpayee government to investigate the Tehelka tapes scandal besides 15 defence deals.
Just before the elections to Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament) in May 1996, the Narasimha Rao government transferred $142.27 million into a New York bank for the aircraft without any contract or cabinet approval for the purchase. Dr Singh was the finance minister and Pawar was the defence minister at that time.
The Deve Gowda government subsequently came to power and the Rs 300 billion deal was signed in November 1996 during defence minister Yadav’s trip to Moscow.
The prime minister, who prides himself on the image of “Mr Clean”, had then sought to cover up the scandal to advance the money without any deal by making the advance obtained from the Russian government to save his skin as it was he who, as the finance minister, gave the money and he was also party to the cabinet decision to give away the money as advance.
The government slept over the report for 16 months while the Commissions of Inquiry Act makes it compulsory to lay down the report in parliament within six months of submission.
Justice Pukhan had submitted the report to prime minister Vajpayee in February but it could not be released because the Lok Sabha elections were in process. The government had yet another reason to hold the report since it gave a clean chit to Vajpayee’s defence minister George Fernandes, debunking the charges the Congress and allies had been levelling against him over the last three years.
In its findings, the Pukhan Commission noted that the deal was full of irregularities and the then Congress government recommended “an in-house inquiry to find out the persons responsible for lapses and to take appropriate action against them.”
“A huge sum of $142.27 million was paid as advance on April 4,1996 with the cabinet’s approval but without there being any contract and even before the cabinet approved the acquisition of the Sukhoi aircraft. The sum was paid through a bank in New York as requested by the Russian side,” says the report:
The report also shows how Dr Singh had tried to whitewash the scandal as it says: “...the said advance was secured by obtaining a guarantee from the Russian government as suggested by the Finance Ministry with the then finance minister’s (Dr Manmohan Singh’s) approval.”
The deal smacks of gross irregularities at every step and violation of the Defence Procurement Procedure laid down in 1992.