NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday sought a report from the Civil Aviation Ministry on allegations that Union Minister Kiren Rijiju and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had caused inconvenience to passengers of Air India owing to their VIP status.
The official spokesman tweeted that the PMO had asked “Ministry of Civil Aviation for a report on delay in Air India flights on account of VIP travels in the recent past.”
Subsequently, under attack over two Ministers causing inconvenience to Air India passengers, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju on Thursday tendered an apology while saying that such ‘indefensible’ incidents should have never happened.
However, Raju also said that the incident was “too small” for the Prime Minister’s Office to step in. The Civil Aviation Ministry has sought a report from Air India on the two incidents. “We are awaiting reports on the (two) incidents from Air India,” Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey said.
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, who is in the midst of the row over off-loading of passengers and delaying a flight from Leh to Delhi, tendered an apology even as he insisted that he was not aware of some others not being allowed to board.
“Air India, being a government PSU, and we as ministers, have the moral responsibility if any passenger has undergone any inconvenience. We must say sorry to them on behalf of the government and ensure that such incidents do not occur in future,” he said.
The controversy erupted after reports that a family of three persons, including a child, was not allowed on the flight to accommodate Rijiju, his aide and J&K Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh on June 24. The Union Minister said as per the original programme, he was supposed to take a BSF helicopter from Leh to Jammu and from there to travel by normal flight to reach Delhi.
“Because of the bad weather, the BSF helicopter could not take off from Jammu and Leh administration was asked to book a ticket in last flight from Leh to Delhi. This is a normal routine arrangement in bad weather or kind of situations for VIPs’ protocol,” he said.
Rijiju said a complaint has been lodged by the Deputy Chief Minister to the Civil Aviation Minister regarding the advancement and ‘misbehaviour’ of the Air India pilot.
Involving themselves in the controversy, the IAF, which controls the Leh airport, claimed that three passengers were not de-boarded from the aircraft, but were not allowed to board. Incidentally, the passengers were none other than a senior rank officer of the Indian Foreign Service, his wife and son. They were returning after meeting one of their relatives, who was an IAF officer posted at Leh airbase.
Fadnavis warns of defamation
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, accused of delaying an AI flight, called media reports as ‘misleading’, and said in a series of tweets that he would initiate criminal defamation proceedings after his return to India.