The Supreme Court on Thursday asked CBI to conclude probe into alleged irregularities in purchase or hiring of 111 aircraft for national carrier Air India that had cost about Rs.70,000 crores to it during the tenure of Praful Patel as the civil aviation minister. The apex court also expressed hope that the CBI will adhere to the timeline and conclude the probe by June in 2017.
Earlier in 2015, a three-judge bench comprising chief justice H.L. Dattu and justices R.K. Agrawal and Arun Mishra had directed the CBI for filing a fresh status report in the case. The court’s direction came when lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), referred to a response received under RTI, of the civil aviation ministry that it cannot part with information on purchase of aircraft as CBI was looking into it. He had said Jitender Bhargava, a former director of Air India who had also written a book on the “downfall” of the carrier, had sought details on acquisition of aircraft and was told that the information cannot be parted with owing to a CBI probe.
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The NGO had earlier moved to the apex court against the government and Air India seeking a CBI/SIT probe into alleged irregularities, including purchase of aircraft, and giving up of profit-making routes allegedly to private airlines during the UPA rule.
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Earlier, the court, in September 2012, had issued notice to the government and Air India on the plea of CPIL seeking a CBI/SIT probe into the alleged irregularities.
The plea had alleged that various decisions taken during the tenure of Patel were meant to benefit private airlines and had caused huge loss to Air India. The NGO had referred to several of Patel’s decisions, including the “massive” purchase of 111 aircraft for national airlines costing about Rs.70,000 crores, taking a large number of planes on lease, giving up profit-making routes and timings in favour of private airlines and the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines. The NGO approached the apex court challenging a Delhi high court order dismissing its plea into the alleged irregularities.
(With agency inputs)