In this Bombay Wire story, we give you the play-by-play on the recent Defense/Army/Tatra bribe story.
First, the age row. V.K. Singh had two dates of birth in military records, both on May 10th, but with two years – 1950 and 1951. The former was incorrect, but got recorded as the “official” date of birth because of an error in an exam form that V.K. Singh had made. So why is this an issue in 2012? Because if the 1951 date is correct, Singh doesn’t have to retire for another year after his scheduled date. V.K. Singh wanted the correct date (1951) to be recorded formally in the military’s records, and he complained to Defense Minister A. K. Antony to get it fixed. The MoD rejected his complaint (to “avoid disruptions to succession planning”) and on January 16th this year, V.K. Singh moved the Supreme Court on the matter. The SC refused to intervene, and pointed out that Singh had already accepted his date of birth as 1950 on three separate occasions in the past. His writ petition was disposed of as withdrawn. This episode strained relations between the Army Chief and A.K. Antony, the Defense Minister.
The dust had barely settled on this age controversy when the bribe allegation came up. In an interview with the Hindu on March 26th, V.K. Singh said he had been offered a bribe of Rs. 14 crores to pass an order for 1,500 sub-standard vehicles for the military. The vehicles were made by Tatra, a company based in the Czech Republic, which has a joint venture with Britain’s Vectra Group in India. (Tatra collaborates with Bharat Earth Movers Limited in India to manufacture their Indian vehicles indigenously). In the same interview, Singh said he had notified A.K. Antony about this bribe offered to him. Antony, when asked about it, acknowledged that he was informed, but said that he had asked Singh to “deal with it”, and he wasn’t sure why Singh hadn’t done so.
Media speculation on the bribe-offerer pointed to Tejinder Singh, a retired Lieutenant General who had also served as the chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Tejinder Singh has denied all of this, and has sued V. K. Singh for defamation. V.K. Singh also wrote a formal complaint to the CBI, in which he named Tejinder Singh as the person who offered him the bribe, but didn’t name the amount of the bribe in the formal complaint. The CBI launched an investigation and is actively looking in to the complaint. Antony may not be out of the hot water yet, because he’s already acknowledged that he knew about the bribe.
The CBI is questioning the head of the Tatra-Vectra group, NRI businessman, Ravi Rishi, who seems surprisingly “relaxed” for someone who’s being questioned in a high-stakes matter like this one. According to the ET, Rishi said of V.K. Singh: “I just told a TV channel that Singh is suffering from ‘menopause syndrome’, with weeks left for his retirement”.
Update: Over the last 24 – 48 hours, Singh has reeled back and adopted a very amicable tone towards the Defense Ministry and has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want any tension between the Army and the Government, because the Army is part of the same Government. Meanwhile, the CBI has also received tapes of a conversation between Singh and another officer in which the bribe is discussed. The CBI has also sought the defense ministry’s approval to begin a corruption probe against the BEML chairman, V R S Natarajan.
Here’s an interview with V. K. Singh from IBN Live:
Brajesh Mishra, from the opposing BJP, has called for Singh to be sent on compulsory leave from his post, amidst talk that the CBI has not received substantive evidence of the offer from Singh.
Written by the Bombay Wire team, this is an ongoing story and will be updated as the story unfolds. Did you enjoy reading? Please leave your comments and share on the web. Thanks for reading.