NEW DELHI: The Central government owes Rs 451.75 crore to Air India for VVIP flights carrying the president, vice president and the prime minister, as well as special missions, according to the latest data provided under the Right To Information Act.
As per the information provided in response to the RTI query filed by retired Commodore Lokesh Batra, senior officials of the Civil Aviation Ministry, including Union minister Ashok Gajpathi Raju, had written 31 letters between 2014 and 2017 to various ministries asking them to make timely payments to the national carrier for accruing dues at various points in time.
The officials had asked the ministries concerned to ensure availability of maintenance funds and make budgetary changes for VVIP flights and other special missions run by Air India, yet the outstandings were never cleared completely, it said.
Air India keeps three Boieng 747-400 aircraft for running chartered services for the president, vice president and the prime minister during their visits abroad. It also runs special evacuation missions and provides other services for foreign dignitaries.
"The outstanding bills on account of the chartered VVIP flights, maintenance of the aircraft and evacuation missions by the External Affairs Ministry (MEA) remained at Rs 451.75 crore as on March 31, 2017 with some bills dating back to 2006," the letters in response to the RTI query said.
They said Rs 47.37 crore was pending towards six visits of the prime minister to the United States, African countries, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Thailand between November 9, 2016 and February 10, 2017.
"Bills of Rs 206.19 crore towards 22 visits of the vice president between June, 2008 and March 18, 2017 are still pending with the MEA," they said.
Additional bills of Rs 145.63 crore towards the maintenance of Boeing 747-400 aircraft in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 for the vice-president's flights are yet to be cleared by the ministry, they said.
Bills for services offered by the national carrier to evacuate Indians from war zones of Iraq, Malta, Cairo and relief sent to the USA during Katrina hurricane in September, 2005 have also not been cleared by the ministry till now, the letter stated.
The MEA is yet to pay Rs 23.57 crore pending on account of 27 flights for foreign dignitaries, the RTI response showed.
"The ministry had not cleared bills for four flights for the president from November 2008 to September 2016 amounting to Rs 26.02 crore and the maintenance cost of Rs 83.70 crore for the aircraft till March 31 this year," it said.
The Centre had claimed that Air India had posted an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY 2015-16, but the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had disputed the figure saying the national carrier had in fact incurred a loss of Rs 321 crore.
Satyendra Mishra, Joint Secretary of Civil Aviation Ministry, had this year written to the Home Ministry seeking to clear Rs 45.97 crore on account of dues for the flights of the prime minister.
"Air India has shortage of cash flow and is unable to meet its various financial obligations. So, I shall be grateful if you could kindly look into the matter personally to ensure that the outstanding dues of AI are cleared at the earliest," Mishra's letter to Additional Secretary, Home Ministry on April 10, 2017 stated.
Similar letters were sent to the MEA and the Defence Ministry on April 10, 2017 seeking clearance of bills for the VVIP visits, operations and maintenance.
The records show that Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had to intervene to recover the pending dues.
In his letter dated December 21, 2015 to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Raju had said Air India was operating under Turn Around Plan and Financial Restructuring Plan approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) for its financial and operations turn around.
"However, despite improvement in many of its parameters, it is still incurring losses and is facing financial crunch," he had said.
The minister had requested Jaitley's intervention in ensuring that the dues of all the four ministries were released to Air India.
"Whatever need be, the requisite amounts may be allocated to these ministries in their budget at the third supplementary stage," he wrote.
Batra, who filed the RTI query, said he was sad to find that Air India had not made desirable improvement in cutting down the time in preparing invoices after VVIP visits.
"The authorities responsible for paying bills initially do not project adequate funds for the year. For example, MHA has been initially projecting only Rs 200 crore for the year and later seeks more allocation at revised estimate stage of budget," he told PTI.
The activist said it could result in the payments being delayed until the funds were available in the next financial year.