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Proposal to purchase 197 choppers put off

New Delhi(PTI): A decision to procure 197 light helicopters which have come under scrutiny over allegations of deviation from the tendering process was put off today, a move that comes against the backdrop of a scam in another chopper deal involving complainant AgustaWestland of Italy.

The Defence Ministry’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Minister A K Antony, did not take up the issue related to purchase of the light helicopters for the Army and IAF at an estimated cost of USD 1.5 billion (around Rs 8000 crore), sources said.

The sources contended that the issue was not considered as Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh is on a tour to Japan. The proposal 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 allegations, 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.

The 197 light helicopters are to replace the ageing Chetak and Cheetah helicopters, which are critical for providing supplies to troops deployed in Siachen Glacier and other high altitude areas.

Earlier also, a tender was scrapped in 2007 when it was in the final stages of negotiations with Eurocopter.

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