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SC wants scrutiny of Praful’s action on AI

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the central government, Air India and others on a petition seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation/Special Investigation Team probe into the Air India scam. Allegedly, the scam caused thousands of crore rupees in loss to the exchequer because of the questionable decisions taken by the then civil aviation minister Praful Patel between 2004 and 2008 in the United Progressive Alliance [UPA] government.

The petition, argued by Prashant Bhushan in the court, says that the national carrier was made to purchase 111 aircraft unnecessarily to benefit foreign aircraft manufacturers, which costed Rs 67,000 crore to the nation. It also says that several aircraft were taken on lease, bilateral rights were given to foreign airlines without any reciprocal benefit to Air India and at the same time Air India was asked to give up on its profitable routes and timings to benefit private airlines.

A bench of Justice H L Dattu and Justice C K Prasad also issued notice on the Centre for Public Interest Litigation [CPIL] petition to the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission [CVC]. The CPIL has challenged the decision of the Delhi high court, which while holding that the matter needed thorough examination and probe was 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].

The petition says that Air India, which showed a profit of about Rs 100 crore, did not have the capacity to purchase even few aircraft, and immediately went into huge losses after new aircraft were ordered, which increased every year to reach tens of thousands of crores.

The petition has questioned four decisions of the ministry during Patel's time – his ministry going for massive purchase order of 111 aircraft, costing about Rs. 67,000 crores; taking a large number of aircraft on lease; making the national carriers give up profit-making routes and profit-making schedules in favour of international and national private airlines; and the merging of the two national carriers Air India and Indian Airlines.

'All of the above actions and decisions 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. Thus the above actions were clearly 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 are known to involve huge kickbacks. Therefore, the offences of bribery also need to be investigated,' says the petition.
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