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From Bofors to Helicopters, Bribery in Defence Deals Stinks

Bribery has become a very common part of socio-political culture of our country. It has become a cause of serious concern and is compromising the security of our nation. A number of controversial defence deals have surfaced in recent past that shows that bribery in defence deals stinks.

The recent allegations of bribery in 3546 crore VVIP Helicopter deal with UK based firm Augusta Westland is not the first incident. Right from Independence many defence deals have courted controversies. The Jeep scam in 1948 was the first one to invite attention, where the vendor had delivered less number of jeeps to the country then the contracted figures. Then the famous Bofors scam in 1987,Barack Missile scam, coffin scam in 1999, Tehelka expose, Tatra trucks scam and now VVIP Helicopter scam are to name a few.

These scandals that have rocked our country time and again tell a sordid tale. They compromise our defence strength because instead of having more competitive armoury we get shoddy ones and that too at the expense of greasing the palms of third party. Bofors scandal has already enlightened us with the role of middleman in defence deals and taking the corruption to the highest level. Around two decades back, an Italian businessman Quotrocchi was found involved paying 64 crore of bribery to Indian politicians for the successful deals with the Swedish company Bofors. This deal has provided India with 410, 150 mm Howitzer field guns.

As the scam pointed the fingers to PM office, the outbreak of this scandal rocked the country. The image of the Congress party was tarred and it led to the fall of its government in 1989.

History has repeated itself when 12 VVIP Helicopter of worth around 3500 crore was brought from UK based firm Augusta Westland. Similar allegations of bribery are now alleged on Congress government. Although Augusta Westland's GM Geoff Hoon is denying any role of middlemen in this deal, truth will come only after the investigation is completed. Opposition is taking advantage of the situation and claiming that this will again lead to the downfall of the Congress government.

Forget change of government, the middlemen or the politicians, more serious concern is the compromising the security of our country. Bribery in defence deals will certainly lead to buying of inferior and less competitive equipments/machines from foreign vendors. These inferior products may seriously hamper our strength at the time of war or emergency. Something definitely has to be done to stop the malpractices in the defence deals As huge money is spent on defence budget and that comes from hard-earned tax payer's money it is the responsibility of government to make effective and judicious use of the money and not to squander it by buying sub standard products, simply because bribe money has changed hands in its procurement.

Defence is highly sensitive issue; bribery at such higher level dampens the morale of the soldiers fighting for our country. Politicians need to set examples of nationalism to the citizens and especially soldiers and boost their confidence instead of dealing illegally for their own hunger for making money.

And more than that, these scams are seriously hampering our country's International image. Bofors deal investigation had cost Rs. 250 crore and the Supreme Court has allowed CBI to close the investigation on the grounds of lack of proof against middlemen Quattrocchi. In the years of investigation the Italian businessman has never appeared in any of Indian court. Such poor form of investigation has seriously hampered the country's image. It is known fact to the world now that no matter how serious would be the level of crime in India; one can get out through the Indian process by greasing the palms and those being guilty will never be punished.

The only way to stop such scandals is to form an independent investigation team with power and reaches at International platforms for the investigation purposes. It should be assigned to look into such deals and keep an eye on every member involved in all such defence deal. If the matter is of international dimension it should be handled by forming a committee involving members from the concerned country. It can coordinate faster with concerned country's administrative body to push the trial case against the accused. This in turn will lead to speedy disposal of such trial cases under a defined time frame. It is very much visible that CBI is not able to reach to depth of the defence scandal due to the pressure from high level politicians involved in such scams. This problem is there because CBI itself falls under the hierarchy of the ministers in the government.

It's very sad that previously nobody was found guilty in the defence scams. In the fit of the things it is therefore an independent body is urgently is required to look into matter of defence deals and prevent the recurrence of such scams in the future. It will also help in providing necessary direction to plug in any such loopholes. Politicians instead of playing blame game should stop playing against the security of the country. Independence is hard fought battle by our freedom fighters. This freedom has taken blood and life of many people, so no one has the right to bargain on matters of freedom and security of our country.

Serious punishment against guilty on such cases will improve the image of the nation and give strong message to the world that we are not going to let these middlemen play with the lives of the millions of citizens of India.

- Ajit Lodhi