Army’s Tatra truck deal dates back to Rajiv days
If the deal for which Gen VK Singh has alleged that he was offered a bribe is about Tatra trucks, then the Congress has a reason to worry. The original deal to purchase these all-terrain trucks from Tatra of Czechoslovakia dates back to 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.
Gen Singh in an interview with the Hindu said that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to clear the purchase of trucks (which he did not identify) which to him were substandard. Gen Singh said he complained before defence minister AK Antony.
On Monday, an embarrassed Antony ordered a CBI probe. He called up the defence secretary to order the CBI probe right from his parliament house chamber without even reading the files and examining the deal. If the investigation now goes back to 1986, he may have some explaining to do before the party chief.
The Congress is quietly working to limit the CBI probe. But CBI sources said the defence ministry letter asked for a "comprehensive inquiry" and hence the agency would have to dig up right from the day a proposal was made for buying the Tatra trucks and how the supplies took place over the years.
Any high-ticket purchase of equipment by the defence forces has to undergo rigorous trials that go on for at least a year or two to test it on different terrains and in different weather conditions. It was this time gap that Ravi Rishi, a friend of Rajiv Gandhi, got short-circuited by persuading the then prime minister for an ingenious strategy in 1986 around the same time when the Bofors gun deal was made.
Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), a public sector company, was brought into picture to enter into a deal with the Tatra truck manufacturer in Czechoslovakia to manufacture the trucks in India with technology transfer arrangement and then sell them to the army.
BEML has been since importing the trucks in parts, assembling them and selling to the army at a price which is almost double the price the Indian manufacturers like Mahindra and Tata would have charged.
Omnipol or Tatra Corporation, the original manufacturers of the Tatra and other special trucks, is no longer owned by the Czechs as Rishi had bought it over after the fall of the communist regime and rechristened it as Tatra a.s. as one of the 15 companies in the Tectra Group he runs from London. Tatra Corporation is one of the oldest truck factories in the world, selling heavy off-road trucks and vehicles to Russia, China, Israel, Europe and several other countries worldwide.
The first agreement was signed in 1986 with Omnipol but BEML started buying the same trucks from Tatra Sipox UK since 1992 and hence a controversy was raised over the purchases made from the London-based trading company while the defence procurement rules mandate purchase only from the manufacturer. The issue was raised even at that time but it was settled after Rishi explained that the UK firm was just the trading company as a subsidiary of his Tatra a.s., though at that time it was registered only to provide spiritual, religious and social services.
The procurement from Tatra Sipox faced its first hurdle in 2003 when the Equipment Branch raised a series of objections but the same were dropped after two months. The Congress was in power also at that time. BEML then signed a joint venture agreement with Tatra and Vectra Limited, also a Ravi Rishi venture.
The last tranche of the Tatra trucks was approved by then army chief General Deepak Kapoor in February 2010, but some discrepancies were left in the order to be sent to BEML and it was at that time that the present army chief, Gen Singh, started making inquiries if better and cheaper vehicles can be procured from other firms instead of allowing the monopoly of only BEML. It would be at this stage that he was allegedly offered the bribe by retired Lieutenant General Tejinder Singh.
Rishi has a number of companies registered in India as part of his Vectra group and that includes one of the largest suppliers of helicopters as Indocopters Private Limited. Another firm he runs in India is India Exposition Mart Limited.
Besides Tatra a.s., he also runs another truck-making firm, Kamaz Vectra Motors Limited, an Indo-Russian joint venture set up in 2009, which started making Kamaz brand of trucks since February 2010. He has also ventured into higher education in Andhra Pradesh.
Rishi's other companies include Fly Vectra, Global Vectra Helicorp Ltd., Hillriver Ltd., Hlboka 7, Tanax a.s, Vectra Engineering a.s., Vectra Investment and Vectra IT Solutions.
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