The questioning of two former governors — M K Narayanan and BV Wanchoo — has led the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) probe into the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal to the role of the previous NDA regime as both have informed the agency that a decision to decrease the flying altitude was taken in principle in 2003, when it was in power.
During the recording of his statement, Wanchoo informed CBI about a meeting held by top officials of the Prime Minister’s Office in 2003 in which it was decided in principle to have a “realistic operational requirement” after consulting the elite Special Protection Group guarding the Prime Minister, official sources said.
This was followed by a letter to Air Headquarters and Defence Ministry in November and December 2003 for having a relook at the purchase of VVIP helicopters and encourage competition, sources said mentioning details of Wanchoo’s statement.
For the first time, CBI examined the governors when they were in office. They were part of a March 1, 2005, meeting in which a decision was taken to reduce “service ceiling” (the altitude at which a helicopter can fly) from 6,000 metres to 4,500 metres.
While 63-year-old Wanchoo, who was chief of SPG from 2004 onwards, put in his papers on July 4 after he is believed to have received a call from Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami conveying the government’s wish that he submit his resignation, 80-year-old Narayanan, who was the National Security Adviser till 2010, demitted office on June 30.
During the questioning spread over three hours, Wanchoo explained the rationale behind the decision and also said that the National Security Adviser in the former NDA government, Brajesh Mishra, had favoured lowering of service ceiling in 2003, the sources said. The former SPG Chief said that the same decision was reiterated at the March 2005 meeting, the sources added.
He told CBI that the previous regime had taken the decision in principle, keeping in mind the need to encourage competition as well as to change the rules framed for purchasing VVIP choppers in 1970s, the sources said.