Between the lines

RAHUL BEDI

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A SENIOR Punjab police officer recently paid Rs 40 lakh for his daughter’s recruitment into government service. Another Rs 20 lakh was disbursed amongst various officials to ensure a decent grade in the entrance test, a prerequisite for her enrolment. Predictably, the young woman was employed. But the bribe takers were inexplicably in a frenzy to rid themselves of their ill-gotten gains.

Around the same time a senior Punjab minister, well-known for his liberal outlook, received a large sum of money for services rendered. Gleefully, he dispatched his loyal assistant to deposit the loot in an undisclosed account in a nondescript private bank in Chandigarh.

A few hours later, red-faced and perspiring, the assistant nervously walked back to his boss’s office, tightly clutching the briefcase still bulging with money and handed it over to the minister. The bank, he said, had refused to accept the deposit and advised he get rid of the cache as swiftly as possible.

Alongside, in Punjab’s Nawanshahar assembly constituency by-election, a local businessman was pressured into contributing Rs 25 lakh to the campaign fund of a prominent political party. The amount in crisp, new Rs 500 currency notes was handed over to a senior party functionary, who deputed his trusted assistant to dole it out among party workers for campaign expenses. In the disbursement, however, Rs 100,000 magically stuck to the assistant’s fingers. Within hours she was desperate to get rid of the money.

The corrupt in Punjab and other north Indian cities are in a fix these days as many bribes, like the ones cited above, are paid with counterfeit money smuggled in large quantities from across the border in Pakistan. Enterprising syndicates on either side of the border, owing loyalty only to money, have given a new meaning to corruption in India, the untreatable raging cancer that has eaten away at the country’s vitals, despite feeble, half-hearted attempts at cure.

The bribe givers, on the other hand, resigned to the fait accompli the system presents, try and minimise their losses by purchasing cheaply available counterfeit currency. The prevailing rate in Punjab is Rs 40-60 in exchange for every Pakistani-made Rs 100 note, depending on the buyers bargaining skills and the volume required. Right contacts can ensure that Pakistani counterfeit currency is available even cheaper, admitted a police officer, who is a conduit for the contraband. He declared that the rate dipped even further in instances where the amount required was large. Free market rules, it seems, apply even here.

Meanwhile, an 18-month long search for one honest government employee in Punjab some years ago proved futile, but led to uncovering nearly 300 corrupt officials. The government in India’s most prosperous province failed to find any official worthy of the Rs 100,000 award for the ‘most honest officer’ announced by Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal.

But in its search, the state vigilance department paid out Rs 66 lakh in rewards to informers who tipped them off about corrupt officers. Senior officials, however, were skeptical even about the informers honesty, as many, after collecting their reward refused to depose as witnesses to ensure conviction of the corrupt.

 

 

India is the world’s eighth most corrupt country according to an international survey, conducted recently by a Berlin-based, non-governmental anti-corruption watchdog group. According to Transparency International, its rating on the corruption scale slipped a notch from the position it held the years before.

A federal home ministry report complied by senior officials, including heads of India’s internal and external security agencies and tabled recently in Parliament, stated that corruption across the country was ‘endemic’. It said that crime syndicates had corrupted India’s state machinery at all levels, virtually running a parallel government.

‘All across India crime syndicates have become a law unto themselves, making rules and ensuring that everyone obeys,’ the report stated. Even in smaller towns and rural areas, musclemen and hired assassins controlled vast areas through terror and violence. The criminal justice system too had broken down, unable to deal with widespread chaos.

In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana, for instance, the breakdown was near complete with crime syndicates openly enjoying the patronage of local politicians and government officials. Many budding politicians became leaders of these gangs and over the years, got themselves elected to local bodies, state assemblies and even Parliament. Many state legislators and some MPs were being prosecuted for criminal activities.

‘Such elements have acquired considerable clout, seriously jeopardising the functioning of the administration and safety and property of the common man,’ stated the report. It said that violence and organised crime had reached ‘chaotic proportions’ totally corrupting the state machinery.

Even the most fundamental survival levels were fraught with corruption and violence that, if not suitably indulged and pandered to, invariably led to disaster. ‘To survive in India today an individual either has to have influence or money or both,’ admitted a senior government official. Having neither meant trouble and a wretched existence, he declared. What was worse was that people had become resigned to corruption and were convinced there was no way around it.

 

 

A ‘national bribe index’ prepared by the popular weekly magazine, Outlook revealed that bribes had to be paid for birth certificates, admission to schools and universities and even to get bank loans. Bribes also had to be paid for passports, ration cards, driving licenses, electricity, water and telephone connections, for housing plans to be cleared and even for menial jobs. Lucrative police precincts were ‘auctioned’ and beat constables had to be bribed by courting couples to prevent harassment. So were those who carried out cremations to ensure a plentiful supply of dry wood to burn dead bodies.

A recent poll conducted in Delhi, Lucknow, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad by the Centre for Media Studies revealed that over 40% of government employees admit to having paid a bribe to employees from other departments to get their work done. Almost half of the 5400 people surveyed in the six cities said they had paid to expedite work that was their due, while one-third confessed to having used middlemen.

 

 

The survey also showed that 81% did not complain about giving bribes, 48% blamed politicians for perpetuating graft and, alarmingly, 63% agreed that corruption was not being tackled seriously and had become resigned to it. According to the survey, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad emerged as India’s bribe capitals. The overall attitude was that bribery was now a part of India’s social fabric. Navigating it was an essential skill.

Half-hearted attempts have been made to contain graft. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), headed by Nagraj Vittal, a former secretary in the same corrupt system, began posting on its website names of corrupt senior civil servants and police officials, who it believes should face criminal charges for bribery.

Initially it named 74 senior bureaucrats from the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and 20 from the Indian Police Service (IPS) – serving and retired. Vittal said the list would be regularly updated. ‘I was determined to net the fish I had. Why should the names of corrupt officials be kept a secret,’ asked Vittal, himself a retired IAS officer, a poacher turned gamekeeper. ‘By going public’, he added, ‘I will create an impression that I am really serious in my crusade against corruption.’

The commission said it had advised the federal government to launch proceedings against the ‘rogues gallery’ on its website that lists the name, rank and department of the offending officials. While most of the corrupt police officers were from the Home Ministry, the IAS officers belonged to ministries like coal, steel, surface transport and departments like the Food Corporation of India. In most instances, though prosecution was launched as much as eight years back, no one had been indicted.

 

 

The exposure has not been taken well by the civil service and police associations who dismiss it as a publicity gimmick. ‘Since officials are not allowed to comment we cannot hit back but we will take up the issue,’ an official said. Sadly, the momentum has been lost and like all crusades for improving India’s lot, dismissed by a cynical public as a ‘gimmick’.

In another nation-wide example of trying to control graft among civil servants, Indian customs officials posted at airports, considered among the country’s most corrupt, have now to ‘declare’ the amount of cash they carry to work each day. As per the ‘cash-and-sign’ order enforced recently, this amount is entered into a register and later tallied with money all customs officials, irrespective of rank, leave the airport with at the end of their shift.

But this new directive, introduced by the CVC and subsequently abandoned, was met with antagonism by customs officials. Earlier, customs officials had resisted the installation of close circuit television cameras set up to monitor payment of bribes at airports by covering them with chewing gum and their uniform caps. They had also gone on strike at Delhi’s international airport for nearly a fortnight after massive amounts of cash were recovered from some of them and legal proceedings instituted against the guilty officers.

They returned to work only after charges against the errant officials, who claimed the cash recovered was money for daily expenditure on tea and cigarettes, were dropped. ‘The authorities make us feel like criminals by forcing us to declare what cash we are carrying,’ a deputy commissioner posted at Delhi’s international airport said. The new order, he added, would change nothing, as corrupt officials would simply arrange for payment outside airports.

But it is in defence procurement that corruption is the most rampant.

If confirmation was needed, it was provided by two news website journalists from Tehelka.com in March 2000 which ran a ‘sting operation’, filming Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials, army officers, including one and two star officers, and Bangaru Laxman, President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads the federal coalition, accepting bribes. Laxman was filmed taking Rs 1 lakh – with more promised later – to ‘facilitate’ the purchase of a non-existent hand-held thermal imaging camera for the army by the journalists posing as fictitious arms dealers.

 

 

The ensuing furore led to the resignation of Defence Minister George Fernandes, court martial proceedings against three army officers and the establishment of an inquiry into the bribery scandal by a retired Supreme Court judge. In a nationwide broadcast, a visibly shaken Prime Minister Vajpayee declared that the incident was a ‘wake up’ call for the country.

Nine months later Fernandes is back – inexplicably declared innocent by the government, a victim of vested interests – even though the judicial inquiry continues its sittings. Officials in the MoD have been exonerated even though they were filmed accepting bribes, but the court martials continue, their end nowhere in sight. The only victim of the scandal so far is Tehelka, the messenger responsible for the ‘wake up call’. It is being hounded by the government and is on the verge of closure.

The Tehelka expose proved that despite agents being outlawed in the mid-1980s following the $ 15 million kickback scandal in the import of 410 Bofors FH 77 B howitzers for $ 1.4 billion, they continue to function with impunity.

 

 

Military officials admit there is not a single overseas defence purchase in which officially banned middleman are not involved to ‘sweeten the pill’ and ease their products into the country through the Byzantine corridors of India’s civil and military bureaucracy. ‘India’s highly bureaucratic and secretive procedures for procuring defence hardware, which often takes years before contracts are finalised, adds to the corruption,’ an MoD official said. The innumerable links in the arduous selection process all have to be ‘oiled’ even before price negotiations can begin, he added.

The ban on agents imposes a needless ‘hypocrisy’ upon officials, as they frequently, albeit surreptitiously, meet them to exchange information, discuss requirements and product pricing and, above all, to liase for trials. While hundreds of arms agents, mostly retired service personnel, operate from Delhi, only around 50-60 are established MoD suppliers, regularly involved with the transportation and testing of systems before finalising contracts.

‘The widely accepted practice of using agents becomes even stranger when all principal vendors are made to declare that no agent was employed before finalising contracts,’ a military officer said. This clause, common to all defence deals, makes it incumbent upon the supplier to ‘unequivocally’ confirm that no individual or firm was employed to facilitate the deal. The contract would be terminated if it were later established that this declaration was incorrect and the money refunded.

In 1999 Fernandes reinforced the ban on agents and ordered an inquiry into all military purchases, including spares, since 1985 worth over Rs 70 crore. The CVC, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) were tasked with probing the alleged involvement of middlemen and to recommend efficient and corruption-free procurement guidelines for acquiring military goods.

 

 

The CVC’s subsequent recommendations to legalize defence agents to initiate transparency and efficiency in the laborious and graft-ridden military procurement procedures have not had much response. Scores of defence agents, operating ‘between the lines’ with official connivance, remain distrustful of the MoD. Consequently, they are unwilling to register themselves with the MoD in accordance with the ‘regulatory mechanism’ recently issued to monitor their functioning.

‘For years defence agents have operated in relative anonymity. The moment they declare themselves they will become targets for corrupt politicians and officials demanding money to push their products,’ a New Delhi representative of several East European and Israeli arms companies said. He declared that the MoD, as per its guidelines will ‘police’ commissions paid by the principals to their Indian representatives. Besides enhancing official interference, this practice, he added, would encourage agents to accept additional moneys overseas that would remain undeclared, thereby defeating the official aim of preventing ‘leakage of foreign exchange and tax evasion on agency commission.’

The ambiguous and contradictory guidelines for registering defence agents issued in November 2000 require them to list their contractual, banking and financial details with the MoD. ‘The nature of services to be rendered by an authorized representative/agent and the commission payable to him shall unambiguously be reflected in the contract,’ the rules declare. But at the same time, the scale of commissions payable... will be determined by the MoD,’ the rules state.

The army, meanwhile, has ironically declared its preference for imported weapon systems over locally built equipment. ‘A proven product from abroad that has already been supplied to many countries and on which various improvements have been carried out is certainly better as the number of defects in such a product would be far less,’ Lt. General Amarjit Singh, Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA) admitted.

 

 

Through its vast Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that has a workforce of over 30,000 including around 6,000 scientists, engineers and managers, 50 laboratories and establishments, 70 academic institutions, 50 national science and technology centres and around 150 private and public industrial units, India wants to become 70% self-sufficient in its military requirements by 2005. But succeeding parliamentary defence committees have expressed pessimism in achieving this aim.

Hundreds of established Indian arms dealers across the country have one thing in common – none of them officially exist. Their opulent lifestyles in luxurious city and farm-homes and lavishly equipped beach homes, however, have all become possible, ‘trading’ from offices whose faŤades and nameplates are commonplace – revealing nothing of what really happens inside.

 

 

Ostensibly, their work places are no different from moderately prosperous premises in up-market Delhi, Bangalore or Hyderabad neighbourhoods. But closer inspection reveals something different. The uniformed guards outside these offices are more vigilant and loath to admit visitors while the majority of well, but conservatively dressed employees inside whispering into telephones, are recently retired one, two or three star military officers, hired for their contacts at inflated salaries by the country’s leading defence agents.

Their hushed conversations with serving Service colleagues or MoD officials are centred on the military equipment they are peddling and the next step in sweetening the pill to ease their product through the corridors of Delhi’s officialdom. These officials, a part of the tortuously long chain of weapons procurement procedure, have already been promised a percentage of the deal – invariably in Number Three, a euphemism for money payable overseas – from the massive commissions the agents would receive from their patrons once the agreement is finalised. But after Tehelka’s ‘sting’ operation, these arms merchants have become even bigger phantoms, if that is at all possible considering their flamboyant lifestyles.

The afternoon the Tehelka expose rocked Delhi’s political establishment, arms dealers across the country frantically emptied filing cabinets, making a bonfire of their contents. Within hours, they had successfully ‘sanitised’ their workplaces of even remotely incriminating documents and piles of weapon brochures. While the cleanup was in progress, they also made frantic calls – which often went unanswered or, at best, were furtively dismissed – to their benefactors in the military and the MoD to inquire whether the government, badly mauled by the arms bribery scandal, was planning raids on defence agents as an attention diverting decoy. And, if so, whether their names on the ‘hit list’.

 

 

A week later, they breathed easier, resigned to wait out the next few months in the comfort of their luxurious homes till the storm blew over and business resumed. They remain secure in the belief that defence middlemen or agents are essential to most, if not all, Indian military purchases, irrespective of the Tehelka expose and whatever cosmetic changes it might engender.

Before the Bofors scandal, says one dealer, few military officers were corrupt, grateful for the odd bottle of Scotch whisky, a carton of cigarettes or the odd box of Havana cigars. But once the scandal unravelled, highlighting the percentages paid out by the Swedish armament makers, astute MoD officers and deprived military men jumped onto the gravy train. They began demanding their fraction of the overall deal for processing the files that landed on their desks.

The questionable trials by the army of the four competing howitzers from France, Austria, Sweden and the UK in the early 1980s, reports of which have still not been made available to investigators inquiring into the Bofors scandal, brought home to the solider the reality that his role was vital to the procurement process. Military officers involved with the howitzer trials claim that initially the Bofors gun was the army’s third choice after the Austrian and French equivalents, but for obvious reasons ended up as the final option.

A host of successful arms dealers, operating in Delhi for several decades, admit that their business is nothing but a public relations game, in which catering to the demands of relevant officials, especially their wives, ensures success. On their frequent visits aboard, defence agents are swamped by shopping lists from military and MoD officers for things as diverse as golf shoes, crystal ware and gold jewellery. ‘Sometimes the greed is embarrassing and shameless,’ one defence agent said, adding that one MoD official had even demanded new tyres for the car he had been given as a ‘sweetener’ to facilitate one deal.

 

 

Despite the fiat by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi banning defence agents, Indian supply missions attached to the embassies in Tokyo and Washington and the High Commission in London – primarily conduits to acquire military equipment especially for the DRDO – continued to make purchases through agents based in India. The only difference was that the principal was required to identify the agent who was then legally paid commission in rupees through the Reserve Bank. Before the supply missions were shut down around 1989, the year Rajiv Gandhi’s government was voted out of office for the Bofors scandal, they helped procure naval spares from Britain and components from USA for the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme under which India has built Agni I and II, the intermediate range ballistic missiles, the surface-to-surface Prithvi missile and three other lesser-range missiles.

The ban on agents after the Bofors scandal, however, spawned a new and ‘safe’ defence broker in India – the Defence Public Sector Units (DPSU’s). Being state-owned, the eight DPSUs were immune from the ban. As India’s predominantly Soviet-equipped military began looking westwards in the early nineties to replace and upgrade its hardware, their role in brokering this switchover steadily increased.

 

 

Since the early 1990s, DPSUs like Bharat Electronics Limited, Bharat Dynamics Limited, Bharat Earth Movers, Electronic Instrumentation India Limited, Hindustan Machine Tools, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Mazagaon Docks Limited, Bombay, and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Calcutta have profited considerably, acquiring defence equipment, often accompanied by a transfer of technology (ToT) for local manufacture, usually to other DPSUs. But CBI inquiries have revealed that the ToT was only symbolic, with the DPSUs preferring to assemble products after importing them in kit form.

‘By acquiring defence equipment through the DPSUs, the MoD merely legitimises agents through the back door, ’an official said. He said the DPSUs, after striking a deal with local agents representing overseas defence vendors and having negotiated a purchase almost exclusively through them, entered into a contract with the MoD to supply them this same equipment. ‘The DPSUs ended up merely as sub-brokers, sharing the commission in one form or the other with the local representative, making a mockery of the entire system and in no way reducing corruption in arms buying,’ an army officer said.

But the recent Comptroller and Auditor Generals (CAG) report detailing military purchases made to meet the military’s requirements to fight the Kargil war – including coffins – at inflated prices, has shocked even a desensitized nation.

The purchase of coffins, at highly inflated prices, rocked Parliament and the country, leading to the Opposition disrupting the House for several days. The suicide attack on Parliament on 13 December, however, took the heat off the government on the coffins issue, with the Opposition agreeing to prematurely adjourn the House without taking Fernandes to task.

 

 

The CAG’s shocking report stated that that the MoD had contracted Builtron and Baize of the US in August 1999, a month after the Kargil conflict ended, for 500 aluminium caskets at $ 2,500 each. The contract was worth Rs 6.55 crore ($ 1.5 million). But according to the CAG, an Indian commander of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Somalia declared that the price of similar caskets was as little as $ 172 per casket, a finding Fernandes tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to rubbish.

The first batch of 150 caskets that arrived in India in December 1999, weighed 55 kg each against the required specification of 18 kg. The MoD cancelled the order but had already paid 90% of the price of 150 coffins or Rs 1.47 crore.

Equally shocking are other purchases of ordinance, boots, sleeping bags and varied high altitude clothing items. On arrival most were found to be sub-standard, unusable or unnecessary. Thousands of pairs of snow shoes, for instance, were too small for adults, while sleeping gear and other equipment necessary in the mountains during the winter months was found to be sub-standard. A major portion of this equipment was imported through Delhi-based defence agents, some of them retired army officers, and all of it paid for.

The CAG declared that major purchases meant for Operation Vijay were received or contracted for after the end of the Kargil war. Of the total purchases worth Rs 2,175.4 crore, goods worth Rs 2,150 crore came well after the end of the conflict in July 1999. And, of this, equipment worth Rs 1,762 was received after January 2000.

According to the CAG, Rs 91.86 crore worth of ammunition bought for the Kargil war was beyond its ‘use by’ date while purchases valued at Rs 260.55 crore did not meet the army’s general standard quality requirements (GSQR). This include 12.7 mm ammunition and fuses for 155 mm howitzers. In some cases the ammunition was over 15 years old, eight years beyond the shelf life recommended by the army’s Director General Quality Assurance.

The CAG review also found that purchases of Rs 107.97 crore were in excess of what was authorized or required. Goods worth Rs 3423.27 crore were imported on the grounds of operational necessity even though they could have been made locally, like 20,000 bulletproof jackets and over 4000 pairs of ‘wrong-sized’ shoes.

 

 

Meanwhile, growing Indo-US defence relations and the recent lifting of sanctions imposed by Washington for New Delhi’s 1998 nuclear tests, are not only confined to strategic cooperation via dialogue, periodic policy reviews and reciprocal visits by senior officials and military commanders, but also involve a possible inflow of American military hardware.

The US has agreed to ‘partially’ resume supplying defence equipment to India and asked the ministry of defence (MoD) for its requirements to enable Washington to finalise details. But the status of some other sanctions that are related to nuclear and missile technology is an issue that the State Department and the Government of India will discuss at a later stage, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated during his day-long visit to Delhi on 5 November.

India was Rumsfeld’s last stop-over in his five-nation tour that took him to Moscow, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan to bolster the Washington-led coalition against Afghanistan’s Taliban militia and the Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, believed to have master-minded the 11 September attacks against the US.

‘There exists a conclusive acceleration in Indo-US defence cooperation,’ Robert D. Blackwill American Ambassador to Delhi said, adding that arms sales were a part of the bilateral agenda. Military relations between Delhi and Washington, he declared, were underpinned by ‘overlapping interests’ and would include strengthening the overall strategic framework, intelligence sharing and joint cyber terrorism cooperation. Faced with a shrinking global market, US armament makers have for years been favourably eyeing India as a potential growth area, as it lumbers towards modernising its ageing and obsolete military machinery.

And, though India will continue to acquire basic military hardware from Russia and Eastern Europe, service users are looking ‘positively’ at US suppliers, particularly for force multipliers like radar, laser guided bombs and various electronic items. ‘Increasing Israeli military sales to India over the past five years have incensed US arms manufacturers who look upon Delhi as a potentially rich market and desperately want a share in it,’ an army officer said.

 

 

Expanding bilateral strategic cooperation in military affairs has led to the reactivation of the Indo-US Defence Policy Group (DPG), the apex military coordination body to further negotiations between the Pentagon and the MoD stalled due to sanctions. The US has already sent Pacific fleet commander Admiral Dennis Blair and Douglas Faith, Under-Secretary (Policy) in the Department of Defence (DoD) to Delhi for extended discussions.

Washington has also doubled the number of Indian military officers it sponsors for training in the US and is contemplating conducting a fourth round of naval manoeuvres with the IN after 1996. India has also agreed to provide the US army access to its counter-insurgency jungle warfare school in the northeast.

 

 

The acceptance by both countries of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), that prevents signatories from leaking secret information to third countries, has paved the way for the exchange of defence hardware, joint production of weapon systems and sharing of military intelligence. Fernandes, who has been invited to the US next year, said that he had discussed with Rumsfeld the possibility of India acquiring and jointly manufacturing military items, but declined to elaborate.

The US, however, anxious to keep its industrial-military complex in business at a time of recession has agreed to provide the flight control system for India’s much delayed light combat aircraft (LCA), spares for Mk 42 Sea King helicopters for the Indian Navy (IN), engines for the locally designed advanced light helicopter (ALH) and weapon locating radar (WLR).

The export of all this equipment and negotiations with Hughes for the WLR had come to a halt after the imposition of sanctions following the 1998 multiple nuclear tests. India wants to buy at least four WLRs with the ultimate aim of creating an inventory of around 30-40 pieces. MoD officials said the IN, that wants to buy varied US hardware, including Harpoon anti-ship missiles, is likely to gain the most from closer military relations with Washington. The US has acknowledged the IN as a ‘stabilizing force’ in the IOR and wants a closer working relationship with it.

In the past India has been wary of buying critical US defence equipment, as it was unsure of Washington’s continued after sales commitment and the supply of spares, especially in an emergency. ‘America’s resurrected strategic and military relationship with Pakistan is a disturbing factor for Indian planners which cannot not be wished away,’ said a senior army officer.

Armament industry sources in Delhi said US defence companies are keen to expand business in India. ‘They are fully conscious about Delhi’s sentiments over the US State Department’s fickleness and disingenuity in South Asia to matters military,’ a senior defence official stated, adding that US Department of Defence officials made ‘positive overtures’ to the MoD during Rumsfeld’s visit and that of Secretary of State Colin Powell a few weeks earlier.

 

 

Presently, State Department clearance is required for US arms manufacturers to export their wares to India. US defence suppliers can also approach the State Department for an ‘advisory opinion’ before opening negotiations with India to supply military hardware, subject to certain restrictions. But, in its eagerness to sell defence equipment to India, Washington wants to end all such limitations, an official declared.

Clearly, despite the high decibel brouhaha over the Kargil coffins, the growing market for defence purchases is much too lucrative to be ever put through rigorous scrutiny. Fulmination against corruption makes for good copy; decisive action, however, is too costly.

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