New Delhi; The Bharat Ratna is the most distinguished civilian honor in India. Alike the Padma awards, this also is not a title and cannot be used as a prefix or suffix to names. But this carries a unique reward. All Bharat Ratna awardees are allowed for free lifetime air travel on Air India flights and that also in the elite class.
India Today registered a Right to Information (RTI) application with Air India to understand when the central government determined to give this honor to Bharat Ratna winners, how many times this has been used by the recipients, and what is the financial worth of the rewards availed. It was also particularly inquired about the number of times Nobel laureate and Bharat Ratna awardee Amartya Sen had utilized this perk.
Replying to the question, Air India said, “…the procedure for issuance of free tickets to Bharat Ratna awardees was distributed by former Indian Airlines on 25/08/2003.” In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was at the power. The 2003 circular of Indian Airlines, gave the purpose behind this judgment, “The above decision has been taken as a mark of respect to the esteemed personalities for their highly acclaimed contribution in their respective fields. It is, therefore, our endeavor to provide all assistance in facilitating their travel requirements.”
The statement also states that “applicable taxes and other levies will be endured by Indian Airlines” and “the tickets will be issued in Economy Class but will be upgraded to Executive Class”.At the moment, a report in The Times of India had burlesqued the government’s judgment, saying “Want to travel free? Get a Bharat Ratna”.On Amartya Sen, Air India said the Nobel laureate has used this facility 21 times from 2015 till 2019. The airlines said the financial value of his travels could not be determined as the “fare prevailing on time and date of travel is not stored”.
The airlines also emphasized that Sen is the only Bharat Ratna awardee who has used the benefit of this system. 48 people have been awarded the Bharat Ratna to date and of them, 14 were posthumous honors. Apart from Prof Amartya Sen, there are only three other Bharat Ratna awardees who are still alive, Lata Mangeshkar (2001), Sachin Tendulkar (2014), and Professor C N R Rao (2014).