Thursday, March 15, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Govt ready for probe: Vajpayee
General suspended, says he took money
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
Even as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today said the government was prepared to face any inquiry or probe following revelations by a dotcom company of the involvement of politicians and senior government, besides Army officials, in influencing the procurement of defence equipment, Major-Gen P.S.K. Choudhary, Additional Director-General Weapons and Equipment, alongwith three Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials were placed under suspension.

The others to have been suspended are Mr H.C. Pant, Staff Officer in Ordnance Factory Board, Mr Narendra Singh, Assistant Financial Adviser in the Defence Ministry, and Mr P. Shashi, Assistant in the Army Headquarters, were also suspended, a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

The Army has also ordered a court of inquiry into the allegations and summoned the other three Army officers, including a Major-General, who were also exposed in the video clippings, for recording of their statements before taking further action.

Maj-Gen P.S.K. Chaudhary, tonight admitted having taken money from an undercover reporter of a news portal.

“Yes, that’s a mistake...I agree, I admit,” he told “Star News”.

Chaudhary, whom tehelka.Com claimed to have paid Rs 1 lakh, said, “with no favour being done, no commitment being made, yet they offer you some money for nothing. That’s what it is”.

He also said that he had not asked for any money.

A statement issued by the Army said the Army Headquarters (AHQ) had decided to order a court of inquiry following a disclosure by relating to the procurement of stores. The court of inquiry would be headed by an officer of the rank of Lieut-General.

The Army has summoned Major-General Manjit Singh Alhuwalia, Director-General Ordnance and Supplies (DGOS), Brig Iqbal Singh, Prospective Procurement Officer, and Col Anil Sehgal, a Director in the DGOS. While Major-Gen Singh was reportedly away to Shimla, Colonel Sehgal, posted at Jabalpur, had been asked to return to Delhi immediately.

Sources in the government said the decision to suspend Major-Gen Choudhary and the three MoD officials was taken late last night by the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, after he reviewed the situation at a damage control meeting with the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sushil Kumar, and the Vice-Chiefs of the Air Force and the Army, Vice-Admiral Vinod Patney and Lieut-Gen Vijay Oberoi and senior Defence Ministry officials.

The Chief of Army Staff, General Padmanabhan, and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, could not attend the meeting as they were out of town. The sources said if the charges were established in the court of inquiry, the officers could face a court martial. The four suspended officers were apparently summoned to the ministry late last night and their statements were recorded before the orders for their suspension were issued. The sources said the four had accepted their involvement as alleged in the video clippings.

Reports said the Defence Secretary, Mr Yogendra Narain, held another round of meeting this morning and till late in the evening there was a flurry of activity in the ministry as efforts were under way to restrict the damage to the minimum. There was, however, no word on what would be the fate of the other Army and MoD officials, including Additional Secretary (Defence) L.M. Mehta, who were exposed taking gratification in the video clippings yesterday.

The Prime Minister, emerging from his office in Parliament, told newspersons that his government was ready for a probe but first wanted a discussion on the issue in Parliament.

He also expressed his concern over the expose and hinted at the possibility of a conspiracy. In reply to a question on whether there was a conspiracy in the disclosure of certain names in the defence deal, the Prime Minister said: “dal mein kuch kala to hai” (there is something fishy).

The Prime Minister went on to say that his government could agree to a joint parliamentary probe if Parliament agreed to it. He earlier held a long meeting with his senior Cabinet colleagues, including the Home Minister Mr L.K. Advani, and the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan.


J. Krishnamurthi is BJP acting chief
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
Even as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party struggled to come to grip with the political quake generated by a website, its office-bearers’ emergency meeting today decided to appoint its senior Vice-President K. Jana Krishnamurthi as the Acting President of the party.

Mr Krishnamurthi’s appointment, who was a front-runner for the party’s highest post last year, but lost out as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee handpicked Mr Bangaru Laxman for the post, is expected to be ratified by the party’s National Executive to be held later this month at Kolkata.

Mr Laxman, who was initially reluctant to resign for his post in the wake of a revelation of accepting money in a videotape made by a website company, had resigned last night.

A statement issued by the BJP said, “The meeting considered the letter from Shri Bangaru Laxman addressed to Mr K. Jana Krishnamurthi, Vice-President, offering to step down from the office of the President pending inquiry. The meeting unanimously decided to accept the resignation with immediate effect.”

Briefing reporters after the meeting, BJP General Secretary Narendra Modi said Mr Krishnamurthi’s appointment was of “permanent nature” and he would be Acting President till the formalities of making him President were completed. The party would go ahead with all its scheduled programmes, including the National Executive meeting on March 30 and 31.

Adopting an aggressive posture, the BJP has decided to project a united front, sources said, adding that the strategy was to keep the allies’ unity intact and face the Opposition with a brave face.

Even on Mr Laxman’s issue, the party is going to defend him as was evident in Mr Modi’s words when he said that the former President himself evident in Mr Modi’s words when he said that the former President himself has sought an inquiry into the allegations and compared his resignation with that of Mr Advani in the wake of havala allegations. “Like Mr Advani, Mr Laxman too would come out not guilty,” he asserted.

Lashing out at the Congress, Mr Modi said the BJP would have appreciated the stand of the Congress if it had used democratic means and discussed the issue in Parliament, but it was more interested in violence and stalling of proceedings.

Mr Modi charged the Congress with trying to destabilise the government and the country for defaming the BJP in the wake of the coming Assembly elections in five states. Its designs would be exposed, he said.

Earlier, accusing the Congress and the Opposition parties for stalling the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament, BJP Parliamentary Party spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said the government was ready for discussions under any rule permitted by the Chair or was willing to order the probe and the guilty would not be spared.

He said the allegations did not involve any minister and no deal had taken place. “The firm floated by the dotcom company was fictitious and there was no kickback. There was no tender or a bid and the money received by Bangaru Laxman was for the party funds”.


Proof against PMO too

Thiruvananthapuram, March 14
News portal today claimed that it had conclusive evidence on the involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office in the shady defence deal sought to be struck by it in the name of a fictitious company and said it would soon come out with the next set of tapes on the scam.

Talking to newsmen here, Mr Mathew Samuel, one of the two Tehelka reporters who carried out the “Operation West End’’, said the portal also had concrete proof against the office of Home Minister L.K Advani in a Rs 1,300-crore defence deal with an Israel-based firm for fencing communication system along the border.

He said things were in an advanced stage and a part of the commission, allegedly about 25 per cent of the deal (Rs 325 crore), had already changed hands. Senior officials in Mr Advani’s office and a retired major who was also a classmate of former Army Chief V.P. Malik, had brokered the deal, he alleged.

Without the knowledge of the Prime Minister’s Office, this deal could not be ratified as any defence deal above Rs 50 crore should get the approval of the Union Cabinet. And to pressurise the Cabinet, it was essential to get the support of the ruling party, Mr Samuel claimed.

Drawing National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra into the controversy, he alleged that Mr Mishra had direct involvement with the “West End’’ deal. UNI

CVC studying tapes

New Delhi, March 14
Central Vigilance Commissioner N.Vittal today said his department was examining the content of the tapes to assess the possibility of recommending major punitive action against government officials in question. UNI

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