The Central government owes Rs 451.75 crore to Air India for VVIP flights carrying the president, vice president and the prime minister, as well as special missions, according to the latest data provided under the Right To Information Act. As per the information provided in response to the RTI query filed by retired Commodore Lokesh Batra, senior officials of the Civil Aviation Ministry, including Union minister Ashok Gajpathi Raju, had written 31 letters between 2014 and 2017 to various ministries asking them to make timely payments to the national carrier for accruing dues at various points in time. The officials had asked concerned ministries to ensure availability of maintenance funds and make budgetary changes for VVIP flights and other special missions run by the national carrier yet outstandings were never cleared completely, the records provided under the RTI act show. Air India keeps three Boieng 747-400 aircraft for running chartered services for the President, the Vice President and the Prime Minister during their visits abroad. It also runs special evacuation mission and provides other special services for foreign dignitaries.
The outstanding bills on account of the chartered VVIP flights, maintenance of the aircraft and evacuation missions by the External Affairs Ministry (MEA) remained at Rs 451.75 crore as on March 31, 2017 with some bills dating back to the year 2006, the response show. The RTI response given to retired Commodore Lokesh Batra shows Rs 47.37 crore was pending towards six abroad visits of the prime minister to the United States, African countries, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Thailand between November 9, 2016 and February 10, 2017.
Bills of Rs 206.19 crore towards 22 visits of the vice president between June, 2008 and March 18, 2017 are still pending with the MEA, it shows. Additional bills of Rs 145.63 crore towards the maintenance of Boeing 747-400 aircraft for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 for the vice-president’s flights are yet to be cleared by the ministry, it says. Bills for services offered by the national carrier to evacuate Indians from war zones of Iraq, Malta, Cairo and relief sent to the USA during Katrina hurricane in September, 2005 have not been cleared by the ministry till now, it shows.
The ministry has yet to pay Rs 23.57 crore pending on account of 27 flights for foreign dignitaries, it shows. The MEA had not cleared bills for four flights for the president from November 2008 to September 2016 amounting to Rs 26.02 crore and maintenance cost Rs 83.70 crore for the aircraft till March 31 this year, it shows. Air India had posted an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16, the Government had claimed but the Comptroller and Auditor General has had disputed the figure saying it was a loss of Rs 321 crore.
This year Joint Secretary of civil aviation ministry Satyendra Mishra wrote to the home ministry seeking to clear 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 to Additional Secretary, Home Ministry on April 10, 2017 stated.
Similar letters were also sent to on April 10, 2017 to the MEA and the Defence Ministry seeking clearance of bills for the VVIP visits, operations and maintenance.
The records show that Minister of Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju had to intervene to recover previous pending dues. In his letter dated December 21, 2015 to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Raju said Air India is operating under Turn Around Plan and Financial Restructuring Plan approved by the CCEA for its financial and operations turn around.
“However, despite improvement in many of its parameters, it is still incurring losses and is facing financial crunch,” he wrote. He requested Jaitley’s intervention in ensuring that the dues of all the four ministries are released to Air India. “Whatever need be, the requisite amounts may be allocated to these ministries in their budget at the third supplementary stage,” he wrote.
Activist 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 has been initially projecting only Rs 200 crore for the year and later seek more allocation at revised estimate stage of budget,” Batra told PTI. He said it could result in the payments being delayed until the funds are available in the next financial year.