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Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri slams India Today for its ‘sting operation’ on Air India, says action already taken against touts selling tickets at high prices

Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Friday slammed India Today network for its so-called ‘sting operation’ to allege that no action has been taken by the government against agents and travel operators, who were caught selling Vande Bharat tickets of Air India to stranded passengers at a high premium.

Taking to Twitter on Friday, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, without naming India Today, said that the media group should have done homework before publishing such sting operation.

The India Today group had carried out a ‘sting operation’, which showed agents “soliciting customers” by offering tickets under Vande Bharat Mission at a higher price than Air India’s published prices. The India Today investigation had claimed black-marketeers who have been hijacking the country’s massive repatriation mission amidst virus restrictions.

Responding to the allegation, Minister Puri said how Air India has been extremely vigilant and has time and again repeatedly warned citizens against such touts who were soliciting customers. The Minister also stated that Air India has repeatedly advised customers to buy tickets only at published prices. The airline has continuously publicised its efforts, said Minister Puri.

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The Minister was referring to Air India’s recent circular on the issue of touts and agents luring customers to pay higher fares for tickets under Vande Bharat Mission. In its circular, Air India had categorically mentioned that it has come under its notice that some touts have been extracting higher prices from customers than listed fares for certain VBM flights.

The national career had also mentioned that it had already warned three agents for selling tickets at a higher price, much before India Today’s sting and also blacklisted them after fresh allegations surfaced.

Additionally, the Minister also said that an FIR was lodged regarding this malpractice by agents at Parliament Street police station as early as on 8 June 2020 nearly 2 months before this ‘sting.’

“Lazy journalism has its own pitfalls. If only the media group had checked with AI or just browsed through social media it would have got its facts right,” said Hardeep Singh Puri as he took a dig at India Today for carrying out a sting operation to reveal information which was already in the public domain.

The Minister also clarified that the persons who are featuring on the ‘sting’ are not even agents. He added that they were sub-agents and the agents are appointed by IATA. An FIR has already been lodged against these touts, said the Minister while advising India Today network for self-introspection.

Union Minister had refuted similar false narrative by media previously

This is not the first time that the Union Minister himself had to clarify on the misinformation peddled by the media on the Vande Bharat Mission. In June, Union Minister Hardeep Puri had slammed Economic Times for a misleading report on Air India’s Vande Bharat Mission.

Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had slammed the Economic Times for allegedly becoming a mouthpiece for foreign aviation companies and accused them of making misleading claims on the repatriation operation being run by the Indian government to bring back stranded Indians in different parts of the world in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

In its report, the ET had claimed that those people wanting to come back to India or fly out are more than ‘fed up’ with the Vande Bharat Mission. Further, the report alleged that the national carrier Air India has been charging exorbitant charges to bring back stranded Indians from different parts of the world.

However, Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had responded to the allegations made by the Economic Times and had called it a ‘new low’ and also gave a point-to-point explanation debunking all the claims made by ET in its report.

The Vande Bharat Mission

Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) is a major repatriation exercise by the Indian government to bring back Indian citizens stranded abroad amidst the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions.

Under VBM, Air India Ltd and its subsidiary Air India Express have repatriated thousands of stranded Indian citizens from various nations after the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdowns in several nations.

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