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Chopper deal: 3 key players enjoy Constitutional immunity

Feb 15, 2013 12:30 PM IST India India

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee, Goa Governor Bharat Vir Wanchoo and West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan - the three key decision makers who were involved in finalising the deal AgustaWestland 101 helicopter deal - enjoy Constitutional immunity.

The UPA government's factsheet on the AgustaWestland helicopter deal can bring embarrassment for the Congress as it categorically states that the tender was finalised in 2005 - a time when President Pranab was the defence minister, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi was India Air Force Chief, Wanchoo headed the SPG while Narayanan was the National Security Advisor.

But the CBI seeking to question President Pranab and the two governors seems highly unlikely as they enjoy Constitutional immunity. Apart from the President, two other key decision makers continue to enjoy high office. Wanchoo is now the Governor of Goa while Narayanan is the Governor of West Bengal. Both of them by virtue of being governors enjoy immunity under the Constitution.

Constitutional expert and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan, however, said that while the three have immunity, they can be questioned. "The President can't be prosecuted while he is in office but he can be questioned and the whole matter can be investigated," Bhushan said.

Meanwhile, Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit said the need for questioning will arise only after an investigation report is out. "The then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee holds a Constitutional position. The need for questioning arises only after the probe report is out," Dikshit said.

The Congress in its factsheet has also put the blame on NDA. The Congress has alleged that in 2003, the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra wrote to the then defence secretary that the existing rules were unfair as it allowed only single bidding and that the qualifying height of the choppers should be reduced from 18,000 feet to at least 14,000 feet.

The factsheet says in the initial tender, only Eurocopter was found eligible. In 2003, Brajesh Mishra met the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, urging him to change the norms to include more bidders. Altitude requirements were brought down from 6,000 to 4,500 metres after that meeting.

Later Brajesh Mishra wrote to the Air Chief Marshal suggesting consultations with the defence secretary. After the UPA came to power, the factsheet says IAF, SPG, NSA and Defence Ministry held consultations and changes in requirements were incorporated.

After the new tender, three companies responded, out of which AgustaWestland was selected. The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the deal on January 18, 2010.

Surprisingly BJP leader Jaswant Singh, a member of the then Vajpayee cabinet, seemed to be endorse Brajesh Mishra's act. But an alarmed BJP, which wants to take on the Congress in the Budget Session was quick to distance itself from Jaswant Singh's comments.

Big questions:

- Who all were the key decision makers of the helicopter deal?

- How many key players received kickbacks from chopper company?

- Does the money trail stop with the middlemen and Tyagis?

- Was the decision to change tender norms purely a professional decision?

- Is there equal accountability of all those who ratified the chopper tender?

- Can the President and governors be questioned if not prosecuted?

- Will the CBI question President Pranab and governors Wanchoo and Narayanan?