The government owes over Rs 451 crore to cash-strapped Air India for operating chartered flights for VVIPs including president, vice president and prime minister, besides flying special missions, data provided under RTI Act said.
The information provided to RTI activist commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra shows senior officials of the civil aviation ministry besides Union Aviation Minister Ashok Gajpathi Raju wrote to the authorities concerned at different times requesting them for clearing the dues of the flag carrier.
The records show 31 letters were written by senior officials of the ministry between 2014 and 2017.
The officials asked ministries concerned to ensure availability of maintenance funds, and making necessary budgetary changes for VVIP flights and other special missions undertaken by Air India but outstanding dues were never cleared fully.
Air India keeps three Boieng 747-400 aircraft aside for operating chartered services for the president, vice president and the prime minister during their visits abroad.
It also undertakes special evacuation missions and provides other services for foreign dignitaries.
According to the data, Rs 27.70 crore was pending towards the visits of the president, Rs 351.82 crore for vice president, and Rs 45.97 crore with regard to the prime minister. Besides, Rs 14.66 crore was due towards services provided to foreign dignitaries and Rs 11.59 crore for evacuation operations.
The bills for the president, vice president, evacuation and foreign diginitaries are pending with the external affairs ministry, while those relating to the travel of prime minister are with the home ministry.
The bills for evacuation of Indian citizens from Iraq, Egypt and Malta in troubled times, besides relief sent to the US during hurricane Katrina in 2005 have yet to be cleared by the MEA, the reply shows.
The government had claimed Air India had posted an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16, but the Comptroller and Auditor General disputed the figure, insisting it incurred a loss of Rs 321 crore.
This year, joint secretary in the civil aviation ministry Satyendra Mishra wrote to the home ministry seeking payment of Rs 45.97 crore on account of dues for the flights of the prime minister.
“Air India has shortage of cash flow and is unable to meet its various financial obligations. So, I shall be grateful if you could kindly look into the matter personally to ensure that the outstanding dues of AI are cleared at the earliest,” Mishra’s letter dated April 6, 2017 to additional secretary, home ministry, said.
Similar letters were also sent to the MEA and the defence ministry seeking clearance of bills for the VVIP visits, operations and maintenance.
The records show that Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had to intervene in a bid to recover the dues.
In his letter dated December 21, 2015 to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Raju said Air India is operating under a ‘Turn Around Plan’ and ‘Financial Restructuring Plan’ approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs to shore up its revenues.
“However, despite improvement in many of its parameters, it is still incurring losses and is facing financial crunch,” he wrote.
He sought Jaitley’s intervention to ensure the dues of all ministries were released.
“Whatever need be, the requisite amounts may be allocated to these ministries in their budget at the third supplementary stage,” he wrote.
Batra, who got these records under the RTI Act, said he was sad to find that Air India has not made desirable improvement in cutting down the time in preparing invoices after VVIP visits.
“The authorities responsible for paying bills initially do not project adequate funds for the year. For example, MHA initially projected only Rs 200 crore for the year, and later seek more allocation at revised estimate stage of the budget,” Batra told PTI.
He said it could result in the payments getting delayed.
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