CBI files 3 FIRs over probe into aviation ministry decisions during UPA tenure
The FIRs relate to the purchase of 50 Boeing aircraft for the erstwhile Air India, the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, and handing over of lucrative international airline routes to private airlines, a source in the CBI told Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered three FIRs pertaining to the affairs of the civil aviation ministry under the previous Congress-led government.
The First Information Reports (FIRs) relate to the purchase of 50 Boeing aircraft for the erstwhile Air India, leasing of aircraft, and handing over of lucrative international airline routes to private airlines, while the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines has been registered as a preliminary enquiry, a source in the CBI told Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity.
The cases come on the heels of the CBI raiding former finance minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti. The FIRs do not mention any public official by name but are built around a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted to Parliament in 2011 and a subsequent report by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC). Both reports pointed out glaring gaps in the acquisition process, which experts believe led to the national air carrier bleeding financially.
In January 2017, the Supreme Court had also asked the CBI to complete the probe on the same matter by June while hearing a public interest litigation filed by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan on the Boeing purchase.
“The Supreme Court had asked the attorney general to look into the allegations in a time-bound manner. We examined the evidence and decided to register three separate cases. We will finish the investigation soon,” said a senior CBI official privy to the development.
According to the CBI official who spoke to HT, the CBI director sanctioned the registration of a case on Saturday after it remained under the scanner since 2014.
The other two cases — the merger and surrendering of routes — are part of a larger probe into the mismanagement of the national air carrier whose losses increased from Rs 63 crore to over Rs 7,000 crore in the 10-year period between 2004 and 2014 coinciding with the Congress-led UPA rule.
The FIR only mentions “unnamed official of civil aviation ministry”. The auditor, which covered the 2002-2010 period in its review, had said in its 121-page report that Air India was forced to buy aircraft from Boeing in a hurry. It also detailed events that led to the company’s ambitious $11-billion purchase on a paltry equity base of $34 million.
A Boeing spokesperson declined to comment. Former civil aviation minister Praful Patel told HT: “I am not aware of this. But if it is indeed true, I am happy. They should investigate and the truth must come out.”
The first two decisions — purchase of aircraft and the merger — were decided by an empowered group of ministers headed by P Chidambaram, the then finance minister, and Pranab Mukherjee, the then external affairs minister. Patel was part of the group as civil aviation minister.
The CAG report, however, pinned the responsibility on Patel’s ministry, “The erstwhile Air India was advised to revisit its proposal by “the aviation ministry” into expanding its requirement of aircraft. Whilst their earlier proposal for 28 aircraft had taken two years to prepare and submit, the revised long-term fleet for 50 aircraft plan was completed in four months,” the auditor had said.
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