Millennium Post

All is not well with AI: HC

Hearing a public-interest litigation (PIL) on a plea for a Central Vigilance Commision (CVC) probe into Air India's fleet expansion programme and its order to purchase 111 planes at a whopping Rs 67,000 crore, the Delhi high court has observed that prima facie it appears that 'all is not well' in National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL). The court made the observations on Friday.

The NACIL is the name of the company that was formed after merging Air India and Indian Airlines. Although the high court refused to pass any judgement on the issue in view of a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) already looking into it, it has raised enough points in the judgement for the PAC and the government to set the things right. Many of the decisions challenged in the PIL were taken when Praful Patel was at the helm of affairs in the Ministry for Civil Aviation.

'The comments and critique of these expert bodies put a  big question mark on the bonafides of the Aircraft Requisition Programme, the lease of aircrafts, giving away the profitable air routes to the private airlines and retaining only loss-making routes and even the unprofessional decision of merger of Indian Airlines  and Air India. Prima facie it appears that all is not well,' said the division bench of the acting chief justice A K Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw.

The court was hearing a petition filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, which had questioned the the expansion program of the NACIL and the faulty manner in which it was executed. It said that  the government deliberately gave up profit-making routes and entered into various lease agreements, bye-laws and route rationalisation pacts without taking reciprocal benefits for Air India.

'All this clearly amplifies and demonstrates 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. The matter is under examination of 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,' said the high court.

  • Whether it was a feasible and commercially viable decision to order purchase of aircrafts and then lease a large number of them?
  • Whether loss of market share by giving up profit-making routes to private airlines was deliberate and the role of senior officers of the civil aviation ministry and the top management of NACIL questionable?
  • Is prima facie a case of imprudence, gross negligence, hinting towards clear malafides, violation of settled procedure in taking the decision, etc. is made out?
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