NEW DELHI: The Union defence minister is either unaware of the defence audit wing’s warnings against the outdated and overpriced Tatra trucks or he is feigning ignorance.
In fact, the audit wing, which comes under the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG), found in 2006 that orders for Tatra trucks were placed after considerable manipulation “to keep the production line of BEML alive”.
If Antony were to go through the files, he would have noticed the several audit findings that point out Tatra trucks were imposed on the army many a time.
Of course, it would be unfair to pin the entire blame on Antony. Several army officers, too, ensured that the racket kept rolling ever since the first truck was purchased in 1986. Some of them or maybe all those involved will have to answer the CBI in the coming days.
Of the various audit findings, DNA found one buried in
the files of the Master General of Ordnance (MGO) and the War Establishment (WE) — the two directorates in the army headquarters responsible for all procurements.
In 2006, the defence audit wing audited the performance of the army’s vehicle management. S Kalyanraman, a senior audit officer in the wing, chanced upon a transaction
with several anomalies in connection with the purchase of Tatra trucks. In a query note, accessed by DNA, to the army headquarters, he pointed out these discrepancies.
The infantry — the largest and most potent combat arm of the Indian Army — Kalyanraman noted in his query, needed high-mobility vehicles to rush troops to the front during war.
Based on its experience in the Kargil war in 1999 and during Operation Parakram in 2002, the army issued a fresh set of parameters for buying trucks (six-wheel drive trucks under GSQR 486). And three firms, BEML with its Tatra trucks, Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland, were shortlisted.
Strangely, BEML made it to the list with the Tatra T-815, a four-wheel drive truck. Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland were running six-wheel drive trucks on trial when the list was prepared.
“Subsequently the LPTA 1621 truck of Tata Motors qualified for induction in the army because the firm had carried out the suggested modifications successfully and it was approved by VRDE”, Kalyanraman said in his note.
But inexplicable changes followed and an order for 490 trucks were placed with BEML in March 2006 at an estimated cost of Rs254.54. Kalyanraman’s audit investigation revealed that the order went to BEML after “secretary (defence production) strongly recommended” the public sector unit to the then defence secretary and the then vice-chief of the army.
Shekhar Dutt was the defence secretary then. He is now the governor of Chhatisgarh. Considered close to the senior Congress leadership, Dutt received several assignments after retirement.
The defence ministry justified the switch by changing the parameters. It used a GSQR meant for some other truck to push the deal in favour of BEML. All this was done “to keep the production line of BEML alive”.
Last year, too, the CAG reported negatively against BEML and Tatra. The CBI, a source said, will use these reports as evidence in its investigation into the Tatra scam.
The audit report (No. 24 of 2011-12) on defence services noted: “The increase of Rs352 crore under heavy and medium vehicles was mainly due to… additional requirement of funds for the new scheme (HMV Tatra Quantity 788)”.
At least Rs314.85 crore was paid as advance for contracts that were hastily pushed through in March 2010 “for Tatra vehicles”. But “no benefit could be achieved” and there was a case of “over-booking”.
Once General VK Singh took over as the army chief, he refused to authorise a purchase of Tatra trucks, following a “bribe offer of Rs14 crore”. The general has accused Lt Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh of making the bribe offer. The CBI is investigating the matter.
But the fact is Kalyanraman’s audit findings were buried under files and a scam was allowed to flourish for several years.