It may appear strange but the Indian Air Force has claimed it does not have records related to controversial VVIP chopper deal with AgustaWestland which was later scrapped following allegations of bribery.
The IAF and the Defence Ministry are primary holders of the information sought through a Right to Information query. The ministry had referred the matter to Central Bureau of Investigation for a probe after alleged corruption surfaced in the Rs 3,600-crore deal.
Under the Right to Information Act, an application was filed with the defence ministry seeking complete records related to the deal, including price negotiations and file notings.
In addition, the applicant had also sought information related to meetings of the Price Negotiation Committee on the deal, cancellation of the deal, first estimate of the helicopters provided by AgustaWestland, specific additions sought in the helicopters which increased the cost and deliberations which allowed lowering of flight ceiling and cabin height.
The application was transferred by the defence ministry on June 16 to Indian Air Force to furnish the information in accordance with the transparency law.
An application is transferred under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act when the public authority does not have any or a part of information sought by the RTI applicant.
The Indian Air Force headquarters in a reply said, ‘The information sought vide your RTI application is not available at this HQ.’
Surprisingly, several details of the deal were referred to by Defence Minster Manohar Parrikar during a debate on the issue in the Lok Sabha on May 6.
The CBI, which is probing the case, had collected many records during investigation, but as per norms, copies of necessary documents were left with the concerned ministry or the department from where they had been collected.
According to Right to Information Act, the ‘information’ is defined as ‘any material in any form...’ which is held by or is under the control of a public authority.
The CBI had registered a case against former IAF chief S P Tyagi along with 13 others, including his cousins and European middlemen, in connection with alleged bribery in the 2010 deal for 12 AgustaWestland helicopters for VVIPs.
The former Air Chief is accused of reducing the flying ceiling of helicopters from 6,000 m to 4,500 m (15,000 ft), which facilitated AgustaWestland to be in contention for the deal. Otherwise the company did not qualify for submission of bids.
Tyagi has denied the allegations and claimed that the change of specifications, which allowed AgustaWestland to be in contention, was a collective decision in which senior officers of Indian Air Force, Special Protection Group, National Security Advisor and other departments were involved.