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The suspension of VRS Natarajan, chairman and managing director of Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), is the natural culmination of the CBI investigation into the controversial deal for supply of Tatra trucks to the Indian army and into irregularities in other cases in which he has figured.

The suspension was on the basis of a recommendation made by the CBI which has raided his premises and booked a case against him for cheating, conspiracy and corruption.

The CBI has also found that Natarajan tried to influence BEML officials during the investigation and sought his dismissal on charges which are very serious. Natarajan had a long tenure in BEML and the charges against him are not new. But they came into focus after the former army chief Gen VK Singh disclosed that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crore to clear the supply of 600 substandard Tatra trucks to the army.

Questions had been raised about the Tatra trucks deal even before Gen Singh made the disclosure. It is in fact the longest running defence purchase scandal, dating back to the 1980s. Tatra Sipox, the UK company which supplies the trucks, does not manufacture them. This is considered to be a violation of the norm that defence equipment should be bought directly from the manufacturers and not through agents.

There are also charges of underperformance, low quality and overpricing of the trucks. Other manufacturers have offered better trucks at much lower prices. There is suspicion of money laundering also as the payments made by BEML went to a tax haven and not to Britain where Tatra Sipox is based. The role of an NRI business man, Ravi Rishi, who owns Tatra Sipox, is also under the scanner.

The many dimensions of the Tatra deal involve not just Natarajan, though he has emerged as the key figure now. The decisions and actions of a range of persons from politicians and  serving and retired army officials to bureaucrats and company officials may have to be probed to get a full picture of the irregularities. There are doubts that Natarajan tried to influence decision-makers through undue favours.

The entire gamut of charges should be thoroughly investigated and those responsible for the irregularities, through direct involvement, connivance or protection of the guilty should be exposed and brought to book. Charges against Natarajan, other than those involving the Tatra deal, should also be pursued seriously.

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