Decision on 197 chopper purchase put off

New Delhi: Amidst allegations of deviation from the tendering process, the government today put off the decision on a proposal to procure 197 light helicopters, a move that comes against the backdrop of a scam in another chopper deal involving complainant AgustaWestland of Italy.
The proposal to purchase the helicopters for the Army and the IAF at an estimated cost of USD 1.5 billion (around Rs 8000 crore) was to be considered by the Defence Ministry's Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) but it did not take it up, sources said.
The sources contended that the issue was not considered by the DAC, headed by Defence Minister A K Antony, as Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh is on a tour to Japan.
The process to purchase the light helicopters has been under scrutiny after allegations that the conditions of Request for Proposal were not adhered to by the two vendors — European Eurocopter and Russian Kamov.
The DAC was to consider the report of a Special Technical Oversight Committee (STOC) which went into allegations about non-compliance by one of the two contending vendors with the terms and conditions of the Request for Proposal.
The charges, mainly by AgustaWestland, were that one of the vendors had made changes in the structure of its chopper by adding a bubble bulge to carry injured troops on stretcher.
There were also allegations about non-certification of engines of the Russian chopper in the race, sources said.
For the tender floated in 2008, Eurocopter's AS 350 Fennec and Russian Kamov's 226 'Sergei' have been shortlisted while AgustaWestland was knocked out in the initial round of scrutiny for not meeting the requirements.
Recently, allegations had surfaced in Italy that bribes were demanded by officers involved in the trial process of light helicopters from AgustaWestland.
The deferment comes against the backdrop of a major scam unfolding with regard to the 2010 deal for procuring 12 helicopters for Indian VVIPs from AugustaWestland, with allegations that around Rs 352 crore were paid as kickbacks in the Rs 3600 crore contract.