An RTI reply has revealed that the Centre’s Narendra Modi government owed the debt-ridden Air India more than Rs. 325 crore. This included the bills for the foreign trips made by VVIPs– the President, the Vice President and the Prime Minister.
The reply was given to the RTI request by Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra, who has been seeking the details on the money owed by different ministries towards the country’s national carrier.
The details provided in the response dated 8 March shows that Rs 325.81 crore worth of bills for VVIP charter flights are pending as on 31 January, 2018, reported PTI. This could further go up as the financial year is not yet over.
The news agency further reported that the highest outstanding amount of Rs 178.55 crore was due from the External Affairs Ministry, followed by the Cabinet Secretariat and the PMO (Rs 128.84 crore), and the Defence Ministry (Rs 18.42 crore).
The bills for these aircraft are to be paid from the exchequer by the Defence Ministry, the Ministry of External Affairs Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Secretariat.
The RTI reply said that the total outstanding currently stood in excess of Rs 1,000 crore, which also included the outstanding amount of Rs 451.71 from the last year. The government had made a payment of Rs 678.91 crore this year.
The latest revelation comes just days after it was reported that Air India was set to raise Rs 500 crore by selling land and real estate in 2018-19. Questions may be raised on whether the prompt clearance of its dues by the government towards the national carrier could have prevented Air India from selling its prime properties across India.
The PMO’s reply to Commodre (Retd) Batra to another RTI request shows just how lackadaisical the central government has been in clearing its outstanding amount owed to Air India. In its reply, the PMO accepted that it had received the the bills for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trips to Japan and Sri Lanka on 31 July 2017 and 14 September 2017, but the payment had still not been made to the national carrier.
PM Modi had travelled to these two countries in November 2016 and May 2017 respectively. On the PMO website, the details of Modi’s last ten visits either state ‘Bills under process’ or ‘Bills not received.’
This assumes significance in light of the government’s decision to invite foreign investment up to 49% in Air India to bail out the national carrier from its financial mess.