The central government owes Rs 1,146.86 crore to national carrier Air India for VVIP charter flights, some of them booked as far as 10 years ago, reveals the reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query.
The details provided by Air India in September to RTI activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) show that while the ministry of defence's (MoD's) outstanding bill is Rs 211.17 crore, the cabinet secretariat owes Rs 543.18 crore and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) Rs 392.33 crore.
While the MoD has to pay arrears for flights booked for the President of India, the cabinet secretariat's dues are for the Prime Minister's flights. The MEA's arrears are for flights booked for VIPs and dignitaries visiting India, as well as for chartered flights booked for evacuation and rescue missions of Indian citizens abroad.
Batra told HuffPost India over the phone that this was a "gross mismanagement of the taxpayers' money", which should not be used to pay the interest on the pending dues.
In August this year, reports said that the ministry of civil aviation had initiated discussions with the finance ministry for a Rs 11,000 crore bailout package for the ailing airline. The discussions come against the backdrop of a failed effort to sell a stake in the carrier, which continues to grapple with financial woes.
In September, the airline was assured of Rs 2,100 crore in the form of guaranteed borrowing by the government.
Batra added that the government should first pay the "outstanding amount of over Rs 1,100 crore".