An answer from the national carrier, Air India, to a recent RTI query revealed that the Indian Government owes a total of Rs 1146.86 crore for VVIP charter flights. Cash-strapped Air India reportedly, furnished the details to applicant Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) on September 26 where it stated that the Defence Ministry has outstanding bills of Rs 211.17 crore, Cabinet Secretariat and PMO jointly owe Rs 543.18 crore while the External Affairs Ministry owes Rs 392.33 crores.
Government Owes Air India Rs 1146.86 Crore
According to Economic Times, some of the oldest outstanding bills for the visits of the President, the Vice-President and the evacuation flights are at least a decade old. The applicant said that even the CAG observations failed to deter the government as it has not paid the bills from 2006.
Reportedly, the issue of pending payments by the Government was flagged by the then Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in 2016 wherein, it had said, “Hence considering the significant quantum of pending dues and in the context of government support to Air India Limited (AIL) for turnaround, more efforts need to be made for early action for reimbursement of dues by both AIL and government,” reported the daily.
For the foreign visits of the VVIPs- President, Prime Minister and the Vice-President, Air India modifies its commercial jets to suit the individual needs of the dignitaries. The bills for the flights are also paid from the exchequer by the Ministry of Defence, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Cabinet Secretariat and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) respectively. In a March 2018 reply, the national carrier had said that the total outstanding bills were at Rs 325 crores as on January 31 which has now crossed over to Rs 1000 crores.
The RTI reply is particularly important considering the economic conditions of the national carrier. Air India is grappling with critical economic conditions with a burden of debt of more than Rs 48,000 crores. Moreover, the government’s efforts for disinvestment of Air India also failed earlier this year. Reportedly, since its merger with Indian Airlines in 2007, Air India has been making losses. Earlier in September, the government had agreed to make a fresh equity infusion of Rs 860 crores to AIL and provide a sovereign guarantee to it.