27 mar 2012
Rs. 14-crore bribe offer to army chief exposes scam worth crores in Tatra trucks
The middleman who met General Singh wanted clearance for one more batch of 1600 vehicles in September 2010. For this, the lobbyist allegedly offered 14 crores. In 2010, the government changed the rules so that different manufacturers could apply for the contract through open bidding. After nearly 25 years of a monopoly, Tatra became one of three or four contenders. Since then, the contract has not been awarded to any supplier.
Tatra all-weather all-terrain trucks are used to transport missiles, artillery and troops. These trucks are manufactured in the Czech Republic. The cost to the country has been huge. A 4×4 Tatra truck, for example, costs between 40 to 50 lakhs in Europe. It was sold by BEML to the Army at nearly double that price. Ashok Leyland and Tata Motors supply similar trucks for 16-18 lakhs. Jacks for the Tatra truck, available in the market for Rs. 3000 for similar heavy vehicles, were bought for Rs. 30,000 each by BEML on behalf of the Army.
The top dollar paid for the trucks wasn’t matched by performance. A whistleblower named Anil Bakshi reveals that the Army has, for a while, been unhappy with the performance of the Tatra trucks. Mr Bakshi was a defence contractor for the Indian Army and was contracted to prep vehicles for the Army’s use after they had been bought. In 2009, he said that 45 Tatra trucks arrived with faulty or damaged tyres and old batteries. He refused to clear them for usage.
Other experts say that spare parts are not easily available for Tatra trucks. BEML takes upto two years to deliver spare parts.
Instead of buying these trucks directly from the manufacturer, BEML uses a middleman named Tatra Sipox, a London-based trading company. However, government rules make it necessary for all defence equipment to be bought directly from the manufacturer. In 1986, India signed a transfer-of-technology agreement with a Czech company named Omnipol. The idea was for BEML to learn how to eventually build heavy vehicles locally. That deal continued till 1997 when BEML signed with Tatra Sipox, a London-based trading company, and not the original manufacturer of the trucks. The Czech company is the original manufacturer. In violation of defence rules, a middleman or dealer had entered the picture. BEML never gathered the expertise to eventually build a Tatra-like truck on its own.