WAR SHIPS SCAM HAS ITALY CONNECTION
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
All roads lead to Rome; so said people in the heyday of the Roman Empire. Now all major scams in the Indian defence purchases have an intimate connection with Italy. Why is that so, one may ask. Because the hand that swung the cradle was that of a lover of Italy. Of late the Indian policy makers and citizenry have been debating the Agusta Westland helicopter deal and who made how much money under the table – politicians, bureaucrats, defence personnel etc – and whether anyone would be brought to book, the consensus that emerged was that it was all sound and fury signifying nothing. Before the embers could die down, erupts another big scam from the Congress led UPA government rule and once again all roads lead to Rome.
WAR SHIPS MADE IN ITALY
Global tenders were floated to buy two Tankers for the Indian Navy. Russia, Korea and Italy responded. One of the stipulations was that the hull of the Tankers would be constructed with superior weapon grade steel to withstand the rough and tumble of turbulent waters at high seas. When the Koreans pleaded their inability to use weapon grade steel, their company was eliminated from the competition by the Indian buyers. When the Italian company too pleaded that they would use commercial grade steel and not the superior weapon grade steel, the Indian government lowered the quality of steel required to be used in ship building. Why was a special love and out of turn favour shown to the Italians? It is hard to explain.The Russians did not use commercial grade steel as that might attract adverse criticism later, so they too withdrew. Thus the Government of India run by the Congress dominated UPA government manipulated the situation to have just one vendor in the run for the Tanker building contract and the said vendor happened to be from Italy.
What is the role of a Tanker that the Indian Navy needed? A Tanker is a war grade ship that goes into a sea battle along with the Naval Fleet and supplies munitions of war, fuel for other ships of the flotilla, drinking water for Naval personnel deployed in the fleet, food provisions and allied goods needed from time to time while the flotilla is afloat at high seas.
INS DEEPAK , INS SHAKTI were the two Tankers that the Indian Navy bought from Italy at a fairly high price. The brand new Tankers were deployed to escort INS VIKRAMADITYA, the new aircraft carrier as it sailed from Russia to reach India. However, at high seas near Lisbon, the choppy waters, cold temperature and allied factors caused two four-inch cracks in the hull which should not have happened to new Tankers. The Tankers had to be towed into the Lisbon harbor for necessary repairs. The C-in-C Western Fleet, Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha brought it to the notice of Naval Headquarters in New Delhi and requested for an investigation as it was a serious matter. For reasons best known to the powers that be, no action was taken and the file just gathered dust.
As a series of accidents happened with the Naval arsenal, submarines and smaller men of war some time back, some well intentioned serving and retired Naval officers thought it prudent to have the flaws in the Tankers acquired from Italy examined in depth and remedial action taken according to findings. Thus the case of the said Tankers came to light in 2016. Dr Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office said in an interview that since the Modi government had adopted zero tolerance to corruption, the Italian Tanker Scam would be investigated in depth.
Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar has already stated that discreet enquiries were being made in the case and if the development so required the case would be looked into afresh. It indicates that the Modi government would not like to turn Nelson’s eye to a case of corruption. Moreover, the present case of lowering the standard of steel used in the Tanker building must be investigated from the angle of corruption too. A significant point to be noted is that the Italian company involved in the Agusta helicopter deal and the one involved in the Tankers deal are sister concerns of the same parent company. It goes without saying that some influential dignitary in India whose heart beats for the Italian defence dealers has played a major and decisive role in swinging the deal even by lowering the standard of high grade steel and putting lives if Indian sailors at risk.
A spokesman of the Indian Navy came on TV camera to explain that the said Tankers have been sailing all over the high seas sans complaints and all was well with their functioning. He, however, skipped the major point of lowering the standard of steel in manufacturing the said Tankers and at whose instance was the said decision made.
In a TV discussion some veterans of the Indian Navy found themselves a divided house. While some said that the said Tankers had been sailing in choppy waters without a complaint, others said that the fact still remained unexplained why the low quality steel was used in the ship building. It may be true that a Tanker is not the front line battle ship and is not required to go into action against an enemy Destroyer, the crucial fact remains that it is a war ship and not a toy. The sea worthiness of a Tanker in a sea battle is as important as that of a Cruiser or a speed boat. If a Tanker becomes a battle casualty, what would happen to the supply line of essential items that form the life- line of the fighting force. What Napoleon said about the Army equally applies to the Navy. He said” An Army marches on its stomach”. Pray, so does the Navy. A hungry soldier, sailor or airman will not have his heart and mind in engaging the enemy when he goes into battle.
Corruption is a termite that eats into the vitals of a fighting outfit. It is the duty of every patriotic citizen to not only keep corruption at sea but also punish those who indulge into corruption. It goes without saying that there was manifest corruption in the Tanker deal for the Indian Navy. The case must be investigated thoroughly and those found to have made money risking lives of compatriots and security of motherland must be put on trial. The earlier and speedier it is the better it would be.