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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Sinking deal

Sir — It is bewildering to learn that India has signed away a part of its naval sovereignty by accepting terms set by the United States of America as part of the purchase of its second largest warship, INS Jalashva (“US disarms Indian ship”, March 15). The comptroller and auditor general report has just reasons to highlight the irregularities in this purchase that cost Rs 202 crore. What is the point of buying a stupendously expensive battleship only to have the terms and conditions of its use set by another country? India’s timid acceptance of a pact that says that the ship cannot be used for offensive deployment is disappointing, to say the least. If INS Jalashva were to be deployed for relief work only, it would mean that its landing platform dock would not be used for military purposes such as ferrying troops, armoured vehicles and tanks. This, incidentally, was one of the reasons for which the vessel had been originally designed. Unfortunately, under the present circumstances, the Indian navy would have to wait for another tsunami or some such natural disaster before it can put the ship to use. Added to this, of course, is America’s right to board the vessel for inspection any time it wants.

One wonders whether there is more to the acceptance of the “restrictive clause” than meets the eye, and a thorough inquiry is warranted. Capitulating to the demands of America on matters of security is uncalled for. If India continues to bend over backwards to please the US, it would not be surprising if, while buying a squadron of advanced-fighter aircraft from America, it signs an agreement declaring that these would not have external weapon stations or internal armament, would never be flown during combat, and would only be used for aerobatic displays.

Yours faithfully,
Amit Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — From the Bofors guns to the Barak missiles scandal, from sub-marine deals to warship acquisitions, India has been unable to make a single transaction without the blight of controversy on it. As far as the over the acquisition of INS Jalashva is concerned, it is shocking to see the government purchase a warship under the condition that it cannot be put to military use. Does this mean that the ship would be turned into a luxury cruiser, for the entertainment of the ministry of defence? And why has such a huge sum been spent on a second-hand ship, which the US would have de-commissioned any time soon?

Clearly, the navy is deeply embarrassed now that its imprudence has been made public. One officer defended the deal saying that what India does with the ship now is the country’s own business. This is not the right register to hit. The officer who said this does not seem to be aware of the implication of the contravention of the provisions of a contract and its international ramifications.

The terms of the purchase of Admiral Gorshkov are no less callow. A purchase agreement against deferred delivery, made without provisions against price escalation, is completely unacceptable. This has enabled Russia to make a further demand of another $1.2 billion above the contracted price of $1.5 billion. Simply put, India will have to pay through the nose or lose the money that has already been paid because of the short-sightedness of its officials. If our defence ministry has no expertise in drafting important contracts, it can perhaps engage a legal team to help it out on such matters.

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — The fiasco over INS Jalashva confirms our suspicions about the real nature of India’s defence ties with the US. All of last year, we heard rapturous praise of US military equipment by India’s defence mandarins. One wonders how these proselytisers are going to deal with the criticism in light of the recent revelations. It is obvious that the Centre is so anxious to please the Americans that the purchase of a floating pile of junk makes little difference to it. If the purchase of a warship from America has hidden elements, one wonders what other protocols lie concealed behind other agreements such as the nuclear deal.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong

Sir — The Indian defence ministry is known more for its integrity than for its business acumen. In the past, there have been many instances where defence deals were aborted midway due to inept planning. But the INS Jalashva story is completely different. The defects of the warship can be rectified in the future. But what about the ‘restrictive clause’, which gives the US the authority to take the sting out of the ship’s firepower and intrude into its inventories?

Yours faithfully,
Surajit Das, Calcutta

Sir — An exhaustive investigation into the purchase of the INS Jalashva should be ordered right away. By ceding the right to use the vessel during war, and granting the US the right to take an inventory aboard the ship, India has compromised on its naval security. Those responsible for the deal should be suitably reprimanded for sullying the country’s honour and dignity.

Yours faithfully,
Tapash Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The report on India’s acquisition of foreign warships such as the INS Jalashva did not mention the fact that the real reason for buying junk from developed countries is corruption in our ranks (“Navy surfs on froth of failed contracts”, March 16). Investigations invariably end up arresting the middlemen while the big fish go laughing all the way to the Swiss bank.

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Dutt, Calcutta


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