On 3 January, the Central Information Commission (CIC), being a quasi-judicial body, heard an RTI plea filed by activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra under section 18 of the RTI Act in the presence of the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of External Affairs. In his RTI plea, Lokesh Batra had sought information about the expenses incurred on foreign air travel by the Prime Minister. The primary concern of this RTI activist was the delay in the payment to cash-strapped Air India.
When the national carrier is neck deep in loss, delay and non-clearance of bills from the highest office in India—the PMO—is simply unacceptable.
The stone-broke, deep in the red Air India had a consolidated debt of ₹51,367.07 crore at the end of the 2014-15 fiscal. It posted successive losses of at ₹5,490.16 crore, ₹6,279.6 crore and ₹5,859.91 crore in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively. The carrier is surviving on a ₹30,231 crore financial bailout package cleared by the previous UPA govt. When the national carrier is neck deep in loss, delay and non-clearance of bills from the highest office in India—the PMO—is simply unacceptable.
Air India has also not been proactive in recovering dues from the PMO. It is not very keen to rescue itself even when the demand for flights is sluggish and oil prices are rising north. There exists a lacuna in the recovery process of all government agencies such as MTNL, BSNL, ITDC, BESCOM etc. Government agencies have shown a lack of will towards recovering dues owed to them by various political parties, politicians and high offices. In 2003, the Indian Youth Congress owed a sum of ₹2,91,958 to ITDC. Though recovery proceedings were initiated under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 and to obtain a recovery certificate under Section 14 thereof, no steps were taken for the execution of the said recovery amount and certificate. Similarly, in 2013, MTNL and BSNL had initiated the process of recovery of its dues from as many as 194 ex-MPs under Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. To assist them in their recovery process, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha secretariats had provided bank accounts of those ex-MPs. In spite of all the assistance and legal structures, recovery was not done.
Air India needs to learn from the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) which took the stern decision to cut power supply to former Queen Mother Ratna Rajya Laxmi Shah...
Air India needs to learn from the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) which took the stern decision to cut power supply to former Queen Mother Ratna Rajya Laxmi Shah for not paying outstanding bill of 37 lakh rupees. The NEA had similarly cut power lines of Gyanendra Shah, the last monarch of Nepal.
The utter disregard displayed by high offices and political masters towards clearance of government agencies' dues has been condemned in the past by Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court in its decision W.P.(C) No.4912/1998 & CM No.12564/2003 issued a directive to government agencies to discontinue facilities such as electricity, phone, rail/air travel etc., in case of non-payment for these services for over three months. The very fact that the high court took 18 years to hear the PIL filed by Krishak Bharat shows the kind of negligence, resistance and reluctance involved in the issue of repayment of dues.
When air travel repayment is not done by an office like the PMO, it lowers its stature in the eyes of public. Even a common citizen who struggles to make ends meet, let alone enjoy any luxuries, will never leave utility bills unpaid for months. Will the ordinary citizen be able to ever get away with something like this? Air India has to ensure that the PMO pays up all dues within a time frame, including penal levies and interest. The PMO, on the other hand should set an example for others restore people's faith.