Name ministers who cleared chopper deal

New Delhi: The Central Information Commission has directed the Defence Ministry to disclose the names of ministers and officials who had given the go-ahead for the procurement of six "phased out" helicopters from the US, for which it had received a rap from the CAG.

The Indian Navy had earlier refused to disclose any information about the deal saying disclosure would compromise national security and cited exemption under section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act to withhold the details.

RTI applicant Subhash Agrawal had sought from the Navy information about the deal including the objections raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the replies given by force, and the names of ministers, defence secretaries and other officials who had cleared it.

Hearing the plea of Agrawal, Information Commissioner M L Sharma asked Navy to give reasons why the information which was already in public domain because of the CAG report was being withheld.

A Navy official said they cannot tell who were the ministers who handled the file and that defence ministry would be in the best position to explain it.

Sharma then ordered the Defence Ministry to provide the names of its ministers and secretaries who had handled the file and given the go-ahead for the deal.

The Navy official also said there was a Parliament question about the deal and they had sent a "confidential" reply to the defence ministry. The official, however, said he was not sure if the reply was tabled in Parliament.

Sharma said as per transparency law any information which can be provided to Parliament or any state Assembly cannot be withheld from RTI applicants.

He directed the Navy officials to confirm whether the said reply was provided to the Member of Parliament, and if it was provided then the same should be given to Agrawal as well.

The Navy had acquired six decommissioned UH3H helicopters under the Foreign Military Supply (FMS) programme of the United States in November 2006, along with training and support facilities at an approximate cost of Rs 182.14 crore.

The deal was criticised by the CAG which found that the procurement "would ultimately compromise operational effectiveness" of the force.

The 35-40 years old helicopters "were on the verge of completing their air frame life and are on extended life," the CAG had noted.

"These helicopters were delivered with many defects including Category A 12 defects resulting in non-availability of the helicopters leading to delay in training and the operationalisation of the squadron," it had said.