THE BIG STORY ROLTA CASE FILES

Repeated warning signs were ignored by top army officers until 2011 when a probe was ordered

Whistleblower in MI-17 reports irregularities in equip­ment supplied by Rolta. The Rs 165-crore contract with the army is put on hold.

Ml finds grounds for a Col,
but Director General, Ml, Lt
General B.S.Thakur does not
order it. Three whistleblowers
posted out of the directorate.

  • co Army orders a Col after | o yet another Ml officer com- I >, plains in writing to then army 3 chief Bikram Singh. Army constitutes a Col into Rolta procurement and AMCs.
  • g Colonel Sujeet Banerjee found dead in room a day before he is to j r§ depose before Col.

Col issues arrest warrants for Lt General B.S.Thakur and Major General D.N. Asijafor not deposing.

ROLTA SAYS IT IS
NOT AN ACCUSED
IN THE ARMY Col,

IT DENIES CONTRAC-
TUALAND FINANCIAL
DISCREPANCIES
IN ANNUAL
MAINTENANCE
CONTRACTS.

 

Intergraph and Bentley—and sup­plied to the army by Rolta.

Over 70 such systems were pur­chased for the Indian Army and dis­tributed amongst specially created Imagery Interpretation feams (IITs) of the army among divisions, corps and commands to interpret satel­lite imagery and pass it on to tactical formations.

The firm, however, did not offer ‘software upgrades and updates’ as mentioned in the 1996 contract. From 2008, the annual maintenance contracts were reworded only to include the word ‘updates’. Colonel Banerjee suspected this was the case because the firm did not own the original software.

In 2009, the army had initiated the purchase of a fresh batch of GI systems to replace the older ones bought in 1998. It, however, insisted that the systems not be floated as a global tender and be purchased as a repeat order from Rolta. This meant that it would not have to follow the normal procedures of a fresh con­tract. The army insisted on single­vendor procurement despite the Defence Acquisition Council suggest­ing otherwise in 2010.

An MoD Cost Negotiation Committee noted that the company had now stamped its name on all the products. This was a marked change from a 2004 contract where Rolta was only the distributor for US-supplied software. Army officials say Colonel Banerjee made several futile attempts to alert Colonel M.K Chakraborty of the irregularities. In March 2011, Colonel Banerjee finally complained against Colonel Chakraborty to his seniors in the MI directorate. His superior officers Major General Asija, the then additional director general, MI (B) and Brigadier R. Chibber, addi­tional director general in-charge of technical equipment in the MI, rec­ommended a Col. The two officers had by then carried out extensive investigations with all the officers of MI-17 about the dubious software upgrades to establish that there were indeed grounds for a formal Col.

The whiff of a scandal would have immediately led to an inquiry,
particularly as it was flagged by two senior MI officers who put their com­plaint down in writing. However, the DGMI Lt General Thakur did not order a probe. What he did next only piqued the interest of the offi­cials handling the current inquiry. In August 2011, Lt General Thakur verbally asked the Military Secretary’s branch to post three officers out of the Directorate of MI—the whistle­blower Colonel Banerjee, Brigadier Chibber and a third officer in MI-17, Lt Colonel Sandeep Ahlawat, who had red-flagged the aberrations. All three officers were posted out of the directorate one month apart and sent to inconsequential appointments outside Delhi. Colonel Banerjee was posted to the Army Welfare Housing Organisation, a career dead-end. The matter seemed buried.

Rolta’s sale of a Rs 165-crore contract for purchasing sensitive spy imaging systems cleared in 2010 did not go through.

DEATH AND RESURRECTION In January 2013, another military intelligence officer detected anom­alies in the Rolta contracts. Major Shubda Naik, an intelligence corps officer posted in MI-17, wrote to then army chief General Bikram Singh about the discrepancies. On July 29, 2013, the army ordered a Col headed by Brigadier Ashwani Kumar. The key witness for the prosecution was going to be the original whistleblow­er, Colonel Banerjee. This was when matters took another curious turn. On January 26, 2014, just a day before he was to depose before the Board of Inquiry, Colonel Banerjee was found dead in his room in the United Services Institution (USI) in south Delhi.

A post-mortem revealed the cause of death to be heart attack. The inquiry was hobbled by his absence but continued as the court examined other officials who had pointed out irregularities. The Col is now over two years old. Unusual because army COIs don’t last more than six months. But then, few cases in the army have seen not one but three whistleblow­ers stand up and report irregularities. The delayed probe has stalled the

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