New Delhi: Defence Minister AK Antony on Monday defended the Tatra deal in Parliament saying that the trucks were bought mainly due to operational needs of the Army and that not a single Tatra truck had been purchased post 2008.
Seeking to turn the tables on the Opposition, Antony said the present government had not purchased a single new Tatra truck and the current deliveries were being made as per the contract signed in 2003.
Taking on the Opposition during Question Hour in the Lok Sabha, Antony said the government has continued with the procurement norms established as per General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR) of 1986.
Antony said India had been procuring trucks from Tatra since 1973 and after the break of the Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia, the then Indian government renewed the contract with the company in 1997.
"In 1997, the then government decided to have a new contract with Tatra. Again in 2003, another contract was signed. On record I can show you that it was given to Tatra. This contract continues," Antony said.
"From 1986 onwards to 2012, the Indian government bought nearly 6500 vehicles from Tatra. Out of that, owing to special circumstances in 2001 and 2002, the then government bought nearly 2950 vehicles from Tatra. This was due to operational needs, because of Operation Parakram."
"The Government of India purchases only on request from the Army, not otherwise. The Army headquarters wanted to change GSQRs (General Staff Quality Requirements) and told the government that the current GSQRs of 1986. So on September 26, 2008, at the DAC (Defence Acquisition Council) meeting that was attended by all three chiefs, it was decided to change the GSQRs. Until today, we have not procured a single truck from Tatra since the new GSQR. The trials are on and fourteen foreign and six Indian firms are involved in them."
"Don't try to create a doubt," Antony told the Opposition members. He asked the members to understand the background of how Tatra trucks have been bought by the Army.
"Please understand the history of Tatra. Government of India and Armed Forces are not procuring or purchasing from Tatra for one year, or two years or seven years... Indian Army is procuring Tatra since 1973. Then Czechoslovakia was one country," Antony said.
While speaking on arms and ammunition shortage, Antony said that the government was spending more on defence procurments in every plan.
"Last year, we spent 99 per cent on the budget," Antony said.
The BJP, however, was not in a mood to relent. Party leader Sushma Swaraj demanded a short duration discussion under Section 193 on shortage of arms and ammunition in defence. "Why did the government not use the fast track provision to procure ammunition once the Army Chief informed the government on the shortage?" she asked.
To this, Antony retorted saying, "The Army, Navy and the Air Force chiefs writing to the Defence Minister is nothing new. They used to write to the PMs of the day occasionally when they see it as something that is urgently needed. This time too, the present chief wrote to the PM in March. After that, I had two detailed meetings with the Army Chief and senior officers and even ministry officials.
"Thorough discussion followed. We realised the reasons for deficiency, some defects in GSQR, in preparation, blacklisting of IMI (Israeli Military Industries) etc. After that, we decided to speed it up. We are now finding solutions to critical shortages. But by and large, armed forces are sufficient and ready to meet any challenges."
(With additional information from PTI)