The Defence Ministry’s claims regarding action ordered by it into the Tatra Trucks Deal are puzzling. A press release on March 30, 2012 by the Defence Ministry spokesperson Mr.Sitanshu Kar speaking on behalf of Defence Minister Mr. Antony stated:
“A day after receiving a letter from Ghulam Nabi Azad on October 5, 2009, forwarding the complaints of Dr D Hanumanthappa addressed to Sonia Gandhi on BEML, Antony had asked then secretary, defence production, to look into the various issues raised in the complaint. Records show that the vigilance wings of defence ministry and BEML are examining the matter and there are also correspondence between the Central Bureau of Investigation and Chief Vigilance Officer of BEML on these allegations. Meanwhile, the defence minister has accorded his sanction for a CBI investigation on February 21, 2012, in another case relating to BEML, much before a newspaper report was published on March 26.”
Mr. Kar did not give any details about the sanctioned CBI investigation.
It now transpires that the sanctioned CBI investigation on February 21 this year was also related to the Tatra Deal and Mr. Ravi Rishi, the owner of Vectra group. This investigation was ordered in response to the same letter forwarded to Mr. Antony by Union health minister Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad under orders of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. The letter purportedly had been redirected by Mr. Antony to defence production secretary the very day of its receipt in October 2009. The letter charged BEML Chief Mr. VRS Natarajan with placing an order worth 6,000 crore for the purchase of Tatra trucks from a British agent and not as required by law from the original equipment manufacturer.
Almost a month after Mr. Antony had silently ordered a CBI probe against Mr. Rishi, Army Chief General VK Singh wrote his letter on the subject to the government which attracted considerable publicity. General Singh also enclosed the letter alleging corruption and naming General Dalbir Singh written in 2011 by Trinamul MP Mr. Ambica Banerjee. Mr. Banerjee was never informed that the government had already acted on allegations made by Mr. Hanumanthappa in 2009 and that the ministry had ordered a departmental inquiry into the matter. Because the Defence Ministry had already conducted a departmental inquiry following Mr. Hanumanthappa’s letter in 2009, the CBI refused to investigate the allegations against General Dalbir Singh made by Mr. Ambica Banerjee in his letter of 2011.
The big puzzle is: Why did the Defence Ministry order a departmental inquiry in the Tatra Deal on receipt of Mr. Hanumanthappa’s letter in 2009, but ordered a CBI inquiry into the same deal and into the role of Mr. Ravi Rishi in response to the same letter only as late as February 2012? The government needs to explain this so that the probe is transparent and the public does not jump to the wrong conclusions.
Meanwhile Mr. Manoj Mitta, the reputed legal correspondent of a national daily wrote: “Defence Minister Mr. Antony had better come up with a "reasonable excuse" for waking up to corruption allegations in the Tatra deal two years after they had been brought to his notice. For, he would otherwise be liable for a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment up to six months… It is doubtful whether Antony can cite the absence of written complaint by Singh as a "reasonable excuse" for not acting promptly.”
Perhaps not. But may not the departmental inquiry purportedly ordered by him in 2009 provide a reasonable excuse?