SC notice on plea for probing Air India’s ‘unnecessary plane purchases’ (Lead)

September 21st, 2012 - 8:04 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 21 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday issued notice to the central government and Air India on a petition seeking a CBI probe into the “unnecessary” purchase of 111 aircraft for the national carrier costing Rs.67,000 crore to the exchequer.

The petition contended that 111 aircraft were purchased to allegedly benefit foreign aircraft manufacturers.

A bench of Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice C.K. Prasad issued notice on a petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)/special investigation team (SIT) probe into the “massive Air India scam” that happened under UPA between 2004-2008 when Praful Patel was the civil aviation minister.

The notice, returnable in four weeks, has also been issued to CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

The CPIL has also sought probe into taking on lease several aircraft that again dented the exchequer by “thousands of crores of rupees”.

At the same time, Air India was asked to give up on its profitable routes and timings to benefit private airlines, the petition said.

A probe has also been sought into Air India giving bilateral rights to foreign carriers without any reciprocal benefits to Air India.

The PIL petition said that the civil aviation ministry under Patel took these four decisions approximately around the same time.

Air India, which was showing a profit of about Rs. 100 crores, did not have the capacity to purchase even few aircraft, and immediately went into huge losses, which increased every year to reach tens of thousands of crores, the petition read.

All these decisions, the petition said, “ruined our national carriers, cost the national exchequer tens of thousands of crores and the only beneficiary of the above decisions were foreign aircraft manufacturers, private and foreign airlines”.

The petition said that these decisions were made on “extraneous considerations and resulted in pecuniary benefit to private companies, which is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Also, aircraft purchase deals (like defence purchase deals) that run into billions of dollars involve huge kickbacks. Therefore the offences of bribery also need to be investigated”.

In the wake of the allegations of the massive scam, two parliamentary panels- the Committee on Transport and Committee on Public Undertakings - inquired into it and gave their reports recommending probe into the chain of the decisions that inflicted the overall operations of Air India, the petition said.

The findings of the two parliamentary committees were confirmed by the CAG report that had gone into the scam, the petition said.

The CPIL has challenged June 1, 2012, order of the Delhi High Court order which while holding that “matter needs thorough examination and probe is required to see as to whether this was done by some particular persons for their personal gains” left it to be examined by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

“It is the function of PAC to look into the financial irregularities which have landed NACIL in such a tight spot making it a huge loss making enterprise necessitating pumping of thousands of crores of rupees by the Government to resuscitate but also threatening the continuance and existence of NACIL,” ruled the high court.

Assailing the high court judgement, the CPIL petition said: “The High Court, therefore, erred in so directing, as there was more than enough prima facie material to order an investigation into the matter.”

The notice is returnable in four weeks.

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