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Air India blames Praful Patel for big Boeing order

Senior officials of NACIL, the holding company of Air India, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee and said both Air India and Indian Airlines had no "long-term" plans of procuring such a large fleet of aircraft.

A. M. Jigeesh   New Delhi     Last Updated: January 20, 2012  | 13:01 IST

Officials of Air India and Indian Airlines have put the onus of buying a large number of aircraft on the civil aviation ministry headed by then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. Senior officials of the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL), the holding company of Air India, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday and said both Air India and Indian Airlines had no "long-term" plans of procuring such a large fleet of aircraft.

The officials of NACIL, the body that was formed to oversee the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, told the PAC that the ministry assured the management of both the carriers that "financial aspects" of the acquisition would be looked after by the ministry.

The officials told the panel that both Air India and Indian Airlines had only short-term agenda of buying aircraft and the ministry's support helped them to revise the plan and go for a "long-term" purchase plan.

Members sought to know from the officials as to who took the decision to buy the aircraft, changing the initial plans. The officials said the decision was taken at the level of the minister and board members and other senior officers of the ministry and carriers were aware of it.

NCP leader and heavy industries minister Praful Patel was the civil aviation minister during the period. The officials are learnt to have said that the ministry had assured the Air India and Indian Airlines that it will provide the required funds.

The members however, are not satisfied with the deposition. "There were a lot of contradictory statements by the officials. We are not satisfied," a member said. The PAC is considering a CAG report on the performance audit of the civil aviation sector from 2005 to 2010. The CAG had criticised the decision to buy 111 aircraft by Air India and Indian Airlines.

The report had also said that the decision was taken in a hurried manner. The PAC had earlier grilled civil aviation secretary Nasim Zaidi. The members were not satisfied with Zaidi's statements as well. In the last meeting, members had asked Zaidi to appear again before the panel with convincing answers.

Apart from the CAG report, the CAG is also considering a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture on the 'Merger of Indian Airlines and Air India: its impact on the Civil Aviation'.

The committee, chaired by CPM MP Sitaram Yechury, had also criticised the civil aviation ministry for its "ill-timed" plan to merge Air India and Indian Airlines.

"The Committee is of the opinion that NACIL should review its aircraft acquisition programme in view of its financial condition, changing commercial dynamics and the demand and supply in the market. The company is already struggling to get equity infusion to consolidate its capital. The Committee feels that a deferment of the aircraft acquisition programme will reduce the debt burden of the NACIL substantially," the report had said in 2010.

One PAC member said the CAG report was in tune with the findings of the transport and tourism standing committee. "We will consider both the reports. The Committee on Public Undertakings had also considered this issue. They were also critical of the government's merger plan," the member added.

Senior officials, including K.M. Unni, S. Venkat, F.J. Vaz, Vipin Sharma, Deepak Brara and V. Bhandari appeared before the panel. The officials are likely to be summoned again by the panel soon for further clarifications.

Courtesy: Mail Today

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