In a possible blow to both the beleaguered Air India and the infamous UPA government, the CBI has reportedly registered three FIRs against unknown individuals regarding irregularities, including the UPA government’s purchase of 111 aircraft worth Rs 70,000 crores for Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines.
Other decisions like leasing of a large number of aircraft without due consideration, alleged decision to surrender the airline’s profit making routes in order to benefit the private players are also under scrutiny.
The CBI, on the directions of the Supreme Court, has booked officials of the civil aviation ministry, Air India and some private persons under the prevention of corruption act, and under sections involving criminal conspiracy and cheating. The Supreme Court had given the directives as a response to a PIL.
The report claims that initially the debt ridden carrier had only agreed to buy 28 planes from Boeing but the government incremented the order to 68 Boeings for Air India and 43 Airbuses for Indian Airlines even though agencies including the CAG had raised an alarm that the decision was a recipe for disaster. The CBI’s FIR reportedly alleges that this deal was carried out to benefit certain private companies.
The FIR regarding the leasing of aircraft claims that the it was done irregularly without any proper marketing or price strategy. Both these decisions reportedly took place in the 2004-2008 time frame when the UPA was in power. The CBI would also investigate Air India’s decision to give up profit making routes and timings in favor of private airlines.
The CBI has also focused its attention on the merger of Air India and Indian airlines which it claims has resulted in the loss of thousands of crores to the state exchequer. The merger was initiated in 2006 by Praful Patel the then Civil Aviation Minister. This was cleared by a group of ministers including Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram before it was formerly approved by the Manmohan Singh led cabinet.
It remains to be seen whether this scrutiny finally reveals the individuals who were responsible in aggravating the debt situation of Air India whose accumulated debt in 2017 stood at a whooping 46,000 crores. It has long been reported how the airline has has to deal with the added pressure of high government interference and it would raise the question as to was this interference responsible for these irregular deals.