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Tatra deal: BEML to sue ex-army chief for defamation

"It is unfortunate that the great V.K. Singh, holding the position of the chief of army staff of this great country, made a shocking and false statement on the price and quality of Tatra trucks we have been supplying to the army since the 90s," a miffed BEML chairman V.R.S. Natarajan told reporters here.

Gen. Singh had claimed that the Tatra trucks sold to the army were not only grossly overpriced but also sub-standard in terms of quality and operation.

Ex-army chief Gen V K Singh had claimed that the Tatra trucks sold to the army were overpriced and sub-standard in quality

In a startling revelation, the general had also alleged that a former army officer offered him a Rs.14 crore bribe for clearing the order to supply an additional 600 Tatra trucks to the army.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing the charge.

"We are sending a legal notice to him (Singh) first, seeking an apology for making false, motivated and damaging statements against the company. If he fails to respond, we will file a defamatory suit for claiming damages. We did not expect a man of that stature dubbing our truck as the most useless vehicle given to the army," Natarajan said.

Singh retired from service Thursday.

Referring to the graft charge, Natarajan said BEML had nothing to do with "somebody" offering bribe to clear the order and reports in a section of the media dragging the company's fair name were without basis and irresponsible.

Reacting to Natarajan's statement, Gen. Singh said: "Apology for what? I have not made any allegations but have only stated some facts."

Natarajan, however, said: "In the communications between Gen. Singh and the ministry of defence, the company's name (BEML) does not figure anywhere. We are going to act decisively on this issue."

Asked why he did not say this when Gen. Singh was in service, Natarajan said the company had to seek legal advice and get the board's approval for initiating the defamation process.

Wondering from where Gen. Singh got the information that the Tatra truck was priced at Rs.28 lakh (Rs.2.8 million) in Czech Republic but when brought and sold in India its price trebled to Rs.73 lakh (Rs.7.3 million) to Rs.1 crore (Rs.10 million), Natarajan said the entire deal through the ministry of defence was executed with due diligence by the ministry.

"When the ministry floated the global tender in 1999 for purchasing 88 trucks, two global firms (Ukraine and Bumar) responded. We tied up with Bumar while BHEL did with the Ukranian firm. As both the firms qualified for the bid, the quantum of order was divided to 44 each. When the army found the armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) we supplied much superior to the other, we were nominated to supply the order," Natarajan said.

"Subsequently, the army floated a tender in 2003-04 for purchase of an additional 140 trucks. As Bumar agreed to indiginise up to 40 percent for the order, the army and the ministry agreed with us to indiginise up to 23 percent. But the great army chief says we imported them and put our label to supply it," Natrajan said.
 

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