The Delhi High Court has placed a hold on the acquisition of artillery guns by the Indian Army without its clearance. In the course of hearings of writ petitions filed by arms company, Singapore Technologies Kinetics, a bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul and Justice Rajiv Shakdher passed an interim order on May 02, 2011, asking the Ministry of Defense to refrain from awarding the tender without ‘leave and liberty of the court’.
Singapore Technologies Kinetics has filed writ petitions with respect to at least three tenders in which it has either not been invited to compete or in which its status as a contestant is under a cloud of ambiguity following recommendations to blacklist the company, as a result of the allegations of corruption raised against Sudipta Ghosh, former Director General Ordnance Factories and Chairman of the Ordnance Factory Board, a decision that was first announced in June, 2009 with respect to seven companies, including the petitioner in these writs.
Referring to Singapore Technologies Kinetics, the court said, “It is made clear that the petitioner will be permitted to join the tendering process, if the petitioner ultimately succeeds in the petition. We consider appropriate to direct that though the respondents can proceed with the process of the tender, the tender will not be awarded without leave and liberty of the court.” The court said this while recognizing a submission made by the Additional Solicitor General of India, Amarjeet Singh Chandhiok that ‘there is no possibility of the tendering process being completed in the near future’.
While lawyers for the company refused to comment on the case, saying it was sub judice, Brigadier General Patrick Choy, retired from the Singapore Army and an Executive Vice President at Singapore Technologies, said in an emailed response solicited last week, “ST Kinetics has not been blacklisted as stated in Parliament by the Defense Minister earlier this year. Since the allegation against ST Kinetics, it was made very clear by ST Kinetics that it has done nothing wrong and we have sought recourse with all authorities to clear our reputation. ST Kinetics has been engaging the MoD (Ministry of Defense) to pursue this cause and any further comment will not be in the best interest of the company.”
A separate bench of the High Court, comprising Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Suresh Kait, had asked the government on March 15 to clarify the ambiguity regarding the blacklisting of the petitioner. “What is the status of the petitioner in the eyes of the respondents pertaining to procurement of 400 units of 155mm/52 Calibre Towed Guns, 155mm/39 Calibre Ultra Light Howitzer Guns and quantity 43,318 Close Quarter Carbine (CQB) with day and night sights and quantity 3,33,11,500 rounds of ammunition with transfer of technology (TOT),” asked the court.
The company was in the running to supply several pieces of equipment to India, including 155 mm/52 caliber Towed Artillery Guns and 155 mm/39 Caliber Ultra Light Howitzers to the Indian Army and Close Quarter Battle Carbines (CQB) for Indian paramilitary forces.
The first tender was for 1580 towed guns, of which 400 were to be purchased off the shelf and the rest 1180, to be license-produced in India by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) after transfer of technology. This tender was cancelled in July, 2010, when a fresh Request for Information (RFI) was issued, followed by a Request for Proposal (RFP) in January this year.
Singapore Technologies Kinetics was not invited to participate in this tender, for which it had earlier offered the iFH 2000 howitzer, possibly because of the CBI recommendation to blacklist the company.
When the leading rival manufacturer, BAE Systems, too, declined to participate in the tender process, with its FH-77B05 towed howitzer (a later version of the FH-77B02, already in service with the Indian Army), the last date for submission of bids was extended from April-end to June this year.
The second tender was for 145 units of 155 mm/39 Caliber Ultra Light Howitzers. Singapore Technologies Kinetics was the only vendor to respond to this tender in June, 2008, with its Pegasus light howitzer. But the process was put on hold around the time the proposed blacklisting of the company was announced.
With this process suspended, but not explicitly cancelled or withdrawn, a parallel process was initiated to acquire light guns via a direct Foreign Military Sale (FMS) from the US government, with a Letter of Request issued by the ministry on May 19, 2009, for BAE Systems’ M777 lightweight howitzer. An Indian Army technical delegation visited the US between January 09 and 16, 2010 for demonstrations of the weapons and the US government had requested 84 rounds of Indian ammunition for trials on two of the howitzers.
The third tender is for 43,318 Close Quarter Battle Carbines (CQB) with day and night sights and 3,33,11,500 rounds of ammunition for India paramlitary forces, administered by the Indian Home Ministry (Internal Security ministry).