rifles hit home
Indian government is threatened with legal action by the Russians for
buying AK-47s, intended for the modernisation of its forces, from a Bulgarian
firm accused of arming terrorist groups, reports Aman Khanna
What is at stake is not just Rs 61.42 crore, peanuts in front
of the mega scams that have plagued the arms industry in the past; on
the line is the government’s inability to stem dubious deals. In
a familiar display of unabashed impunity, the government bought weapons
at a higher cost; chose manufacturers infamous for being self-professed
gunrunners around the globe; disqualified the original designer of the
weapon and violated international intellectual property rights; all in
one go. They now run the risk of being dragged to court.
As disturbing as the case is, it highlights how the Government of India,
a so-called peacenik at the helm of fighting terrorism, turned a blind
eye when it came to acting on its own pledges. The question that arises
is: how could the government ignore the moral implications of the deal?
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has opened itself to questions through
an AK-47 purchase deal that was awarded to Kintex Share Holding Company,
a Bulgarian firm condemned for its underground links. The stark fact is:
the Bulgarian government has on record confessed the shady activities
of Kintex. In 1992, a Bulgarian official was forced to admit that Kintex
had illegally sold more than $15 million in weapons to Iraq
on the basis of false end- user certificates.
This story begins somewhere in 2002. The MHA, working on the recommendations
of its police research arm, Bureau of Police Research and Develop- ment
(BPR&D), sought about 64,000 ex-stock AK-47 assault rifles from an
empanelled list of companies to give its forces an edge in counter-insurgency
operations. The rifles are mainly meant for the modernisation of paramilitary
forces such as ITBP, CRPF, CISF and BSF, besides the state forces.
Dated January 1, 2003, a copy of the invitation sent by the MHA lies with
Tehelka. It reads: “Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India
intend (sic) to procure Ak-47 Rifles immediately to the specification
attached… The above information may kindly be sent immediately by
fax.” As is the norm, the invitation also demanded details such
as the total availability of ex-stock, year of manufacture, specifications
and the details of past supplies.
In response to the call for restrictive tenders, three groups, namely
Bulgaria-based M/s Kintex Share Holding Company, Russian Federal State
Unitary Enterprise (FSUE) Rosoboronexport (a consortium of arms manufacturers
in various republics in the Russian Federation), and another Romanian
manufacturer, Romtehnica, participated in the proceedings.
Izhmash Open Joint Stock Company (a member of Rosoboronexport and the
original equipment manufacturer of AK rifles) apparently emerged as L-1,
that is the lowest bidder, in the financial bid assessments, priced as
they were between $150 and $160 per piece of the assault rifle. M/s Kintex,
it is worth noting, had priced their product between $190 and $200.
Later, a committee, consisting of members from the NSG, BSF, the procurement
wing of the MHA and CRPF among others, was set up to scrutinise whether
the rifles serviced by the companies satisfied the benchmarks set up by
At this stage, FSUE Rosoboronexport was eliminated from the fray –
without a trial, despite satisfying 15 out of 16 specifications. The only
deviation found in the Izhmash’s rifle was the lengthened butt and
bayonet. While the MHA had demanded a length of 680 mm in the case of
the folded butt and a length of 900 mm in the case of the fixed butt,
the Izhmash Corporation overshot the limit by 24 mm and 43 mm respectively.
Seeing the evidence, their rifle was branded as a new generation weapon,
belonging to the AK-103 series, untested by the Indian army, and, thus,
thrown out of the race.
Meanwhile, the Bulgarian
Kintex and Romanian Romtehnica advanced to the later stages. Their samples
were sent to the BPR&D for testing where the Romanian rifle was found
to be heating more than the Bulgarian version when fired. The question
is – why was the Russian rifle not tested considering they are the
original designers of the AK series? Izhmash, Tehelka has learnt, is now
seeking legal advice and planning to take the MHA to court. It has not
received a single reply from the ministry despite letters from high-ranking