Three helicopters that India bought from beleaguered Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, which were meant to ferry the prime minister and the president, are gathering dust at an air base in New Delhi.
Far from being 'VVIP choppers', the three AW101 helicopters sitting on Palam Technical air base are turning into dead weight with each passing day. For the last six months, their engines have been packed and their especially trained pilots have been deputed to other air bases following the previous UPA government's decision to scrap the Rs 36,000 crore deal over violation of an integrity clause. AgustaWestland is alleged to have paid kickbacks to swing the deal for 12 choppers for India. Following the allegations, the deal was put on hold and was eventually scrapped in January 2014. The ministry of defence had then initiated a process to 'blacklist' the defence giant from doing business with India.
The new BJP-led NDA government is reviewing all pending defence projects, but there is no clarity on what will become of these three choppers, which arrived here in December 2012 as the first batch of the scheduled delivery.
"Though no instructions have come from the government, the pilots have stopped flying the AW101s," said a ministry official on condition of anonymity. "For the past six months, these choppers have been grounded and are mothballing. Their engines have been packed and the flying officers have been transferred to other units."
In July 2012, about a dozen Indian Air Force pilots and flying officers were sent to Britain for four months to learn to fly the AW101. All these flying officers and pilots are now posted at other air bases.
After canceling the deal, the defence ministry has been trying to encash bank guarantees worth over Rs 2,400 crore deposited by AgustaWestland in banks in India and Italy. Recently, an Italian court allowed it to encash over Rs 1,800 crore of the Rs 2,200 crore deposited in guarantees in an Italian bank. The ministry has already encashed guarantees worth over Rs 200 crore from banks in India.
"The deal is heading towards a legal battle. No decision has been taken on what to do with these three choppers that the IAF got. The three choppers are occupying parking space at the air force base. A decision needs to be taken in this regard," said a source.