National carrier Air India (AI) seems to be draining the national exchequer by charging anywhere between 80 per cent and 150 per cent extra for tickets that 30.85 lakh Central government employees are supposed to avail as leave travel concession (LTC). According to government rules, it is mandatory for all Central government employees to use AI to avail LTC. The employees, who get LTC twice in four years, can choose to go by air, Railways, roadways or ship.
The AI website has a special section for LTC tickets. Bookings can also be done through authorised agents such as stateowned tourism and travel companies like Ashok Travel and Tours, Balmer and Lawrie and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.
Mail Today found that for a ticket booked on November 9 (Sunday) during evening hours for a Delhi-Hyderabad AI flight for December 14, normal oneway passenger fare was Rs 5,901, which was almost same as those offered by private airlines like Jet Airways, IndiGo and GoAir.
However, AI's LTC fare was more than double the amount at Rs 13,248 for the same trip. Similarly, LTC fares for other domestic and international destinations on November 9, as Mail Today further discovered, were much higher than normal ones. As LTC bookings are the most lucrative segment for loss-making AI, over 20 seats on any domestic flight are reserved for such passengers.
When contacted, the AI spokesperson claimed that LTC fares are better than market fares. But the fares shown on the AI website accessed by Mail Today belie the claim. The spokesman further stated, "Central government employees also get the benefit of changing their travel schedule or cancelling tickets. The cost of cancelling tickets is very minimal compared to cancellation in case of normal fares. The cost of LTC ticket is more or less the same if you compare with private carriers," he claimed.
A senior government official told Mail Today that while the objective of travelling by AI seems to be to save money for the government, it actually ends up paying more for LTC. "The government is losing crores of rupees due to this overcharging by Air India," he added.
In June, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) in an order reminded all government employees to buy LTC tickets from AI. "As far as possible, air tickets on government account may be obtained directly from the Air India (booking counters, offices, websites) and if obtaining tickets directly from Air India is not possible, the services of authorised travel agents may be availed of," DoPT said in an order.
The DoPT order further stated that in several cases, it has been noticed that the instructions are not being followed and as a result, various ministries and departments continue to make references to DoPT seeking relaxation of the conditions for one reason or the other. DoPT is also cautious about fake bills presented by government employees.