NEW DELHI: Months of harassment, interrogation and 18 days in custody later the courts granted bail to former Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal S.P.Tyagi for lack of evidence. The court of special judge Arvind Kumar said that the Central Bureau of Investigation had “failed to state how much cash was paid to the accused and when it was paid.” And this after an investigation as the special court pointed out, that had carried on for “3 years and 9 months” without the CBI being able to bring in basic evidence to justify the arrest of a Service Chief.

The interrogation and arrest of the former IAF chief has raised considerable disquiet amongst senior military officers, serving and retired, who have been questioning the manner in which the CBI went after Air Marshal Tyagi on the Agusta Westland deal. The pressure has now increased to a point where the current IAF chief Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Arup Raha had to break his silence in an interview to a television channels where he said, “it is a very unfortunate episode that a person of his (Tyagi) stature has been indicted by the CBI and other investigating agencies and he has been put under custody. So obviously it does hurt the morale of the people and the armed forces. I can’t say that it doesn’t dent our image or reputation. It definitely does.”

ACM Tyagi was arrested by the CBI on December 9 and released on Monday December 26 by the court. When asked if he agreed with the former service chiefs who had questioned the manner in which the retired officer had been arrested and placed in custody with common criminals ACM Raha said he did agree. But added that he could not say more on this he was still in the government.

This has been the first arrest of a former military chief, with CBI cases being opened against a couple of chiefs in the past but without arrests. The long drawn investigation, the repeated interrogation of the ACM Tyagi where he was summoned to the CBI headquarters and not given the expected courtesy of an officer who had led the Indian Air Force, and then his arrest has been widely criticised by both serving and retired officers who see in this yet another political ploy to make an officer pay for what are essentially political decisions based on assessments of requirements, as well as technical evaluations by the concerned service.

Everyone in the chain of command in the armed forces knows that the final decision in a defence procurement is not taken by the one man ever. Like the AgustaWestland deal these go through what sources roughly described as the ‘collegiate system’ where a high powered committee clears the deal. In the chopper deal 7-9 persons, including top officials from the Air Force and the SPG that was party to the procurement, finally cleared the proposal. The ACM is one of the many equals, and not the person calling the shots to the point where he can alone lower or increase the height of the door of the helicopter.

The sources further pointed out that the Tyagi case was sufficient to ensure that no one in authority would take a decision to clear procurements that all the three services currently need to be up to date in equipment at different levels. “Why will any officer sign off on a file, he will be terrified to do so lest he be arrested for something he probably has no idea about,” the sources said. In the process the procurements that are badly required by the military to modernise, and keep abreast of the armed forces in the region, will be impacted adversely.

After an inordinately long period under the UPA government where then Defence Minister AK Antony was reluctant to sign off on any procurement proposal, the armed forces had been optimistic that the new government would accelerate the process. PM Modi’s initial visit to France where he intervened to end the logjam on the Rafale deal by clearing the purchase of 35 fighters in one stroke, had gone down well with the military as a “bold decision” reflecting a resolve to move ahead. The long delay between the word and deed dampened spirits somewhat, with optimism turning into angst now with the arrest of the ACM that has impacted on the morale of the defence services as ACM Raha said so clearly.

The CBI in the process has been served a tight rap across the knuckles by Judge Arvind Kumar who observed, ““During arguments, the CBI failed to state how much cash was paid to the accused.”

“Admittedly, the CBI has seized the documents regarding properties [of Mr. Tyagi] in 2013, and more than three years and nine months have passed but could not conduct investigation in this regard as the CBI has mentioned in the arrest memo of the accused that the properties of the accused are to be linked with illegal gratification,’’ Judge Kumar said.

“It is worthwhile recording here that the accused/applicant was was arrested after three years and nine months after the lodging of the FIR, and during this period, Look Out Notice was withdrawn by the CBI, his accounts were defreezed after the CBI no-objection and the accused was allowed to travel abroad,’’ the judge noted in the bail order.

He further added, “The apprehension raised by the CBI that the accused may tamper with the evidence is without any basis. Further, the accused had retired in 2007, hence to my mind, the apprehension of the CBI that he would be influencing the witnesses who had been subordinate to him during the tenure of his service appears unfounded.”

(Cover Photograph: Former Chief of the Indian Air Force S.P.Tyagi when in service)