New Delhi: The government had twice raised questions over the decision to hold abroad trials of two participating vendors in the VVIP chopper deal and the Defence Ministry agreed only after the IAF insisted this would not affect the trial process, the Lok Sabha was informed on Monday.
Answering a written query, Defence Minister A K Antony said the issue of holding trial at the vendor facilities was brought before the Defence Procurement Board (DPB) on September 5, 2007.
"The DPB in its meeting decided that vendors should be asked to make the trial helicopters available in India and if they still had difficulties in doing so, the matter could be reconsidered," he said.
The IAF along with the Special Protection Group (SPG) had held the trials of the two choppers in the US and the UK but American firm Sikorsky was disqualified at the trial stage and the tender was bagged by the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland.
The deal is being probed by the CBI after the arrest of two former CEOs of AgustaWestland for allegedly paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 362 crore to agents for securing the deal.
The CBI has questioned former IAF chief S P Tyagi and his three cousins for allegedly favouring the Anglo-Italian firm in the contract.
In his reply on the issue, Antony said after the ministry raised questions on the abroad trials, the two vendors "expressed their inability to provide their helicopters for trials in India saying this would entail considerable delays on account of availability of suitably configured helicopters and need to dismantle and reassemble them for transportation."
Antony said based on the IAF`s recommendations, the
matter was again discussed in the DPB meeting on October 31, 2007.
"After due deliberations, the DPB recommended trials abroad at locations specified by the vendors. When this matter came to the government, the rationale for conducting trials at vendors specified locations was questioned," he said.
The minister said after the government raised questions, the Air Headquarters, after examining the matter, responded that "conduct of trials abroad would have no shortfall in the evaluation process, the trial team was fully competent to carry out the task assigned to it".
The IAF headquarters further stated that there were benefits of speedier execution of trials and exploiting the facilities of the vendors at their flight test centres after which the recommendations of the DPB were approved by the competent authority, he said.