The furore over Air India issuing boarding passes with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's photograph on the reverse side - just days after his image appeared on railway tickets - shows no signs of abating even a week on. In a letter to Civil Aviation Secretary PS Kharola, the Election Commission yesterday expressed "serious displeasure" over Air India's failure to respond to its show cause notice. The latter was issued on March 26 for the above act, which prima facie violates the Model Code of Conduct.
"The commission expresses its serious displeasure over the non-compliance of the commission's lawful instructions and lackadaisical approach towards enforcing the Model Code of Conduct," the poll panel said in its letter dated April 2.
The Election Commission said that its displeasure should also be conveyed to Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani for "the lapse of the organisation" since the airline has failed to respond to its notice despite the deadline ending two days ago. "The commission has further directed that action taken against the officer in charge be reported to the commission within a week," the letter added.
The Model Code of Conduct came into force on March 10 when the poll body announced the schedule for the Lok Sabha polls beginning April 11. The poll panel referred to Clause VII of the Code, which states that "issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer ... regarding achievements with a view to furthering the prospects of the party in power shall be scrupulously avoided".
The issue came into the public eye with former Punjab DGP Shashi Kant posting a picture of the boarding pass with Modi's image on it last Monday. "At New Delhi airport today March 25th, 2019. My Air India Boarding Pass, prominently flashes Narendra Modi, "Vibrant Gujrat" & Vijay Rupani. Picture of boarding pass is below. Wonder why we are wasting public money on this Election Commission, which doesn't see, hear or speak...(sic)," he tweeted.
In response, Air India spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar had said that the rolls "seem to be the ones left over from the boarding passes printed during the Vibrant Gujarat Summit and the photos are third-party advertisements. It has nothing to do with Air India".
In a subsequent statement on March 29, after the airline was found to be using these boarding passes again, Air India said that it had already directed all domestic stations in the previous week to discontinue using these boarding passes with immediate effect. "Today's incident is apparently a human error. A show cause notice for this error has been issued to the airport manager of AI at Madurai," an airline spokesman said.
Incidentally, the Election Commission is also going after the Indian Railways for similarly violating the Code. On March 20, tickets with photos of the prime minister were withdrawn by the railways after the Trinamool Congress complained to the Election Commission about them. The railways also claimed that it was a third-party ad and leftover from a pack of tickets printed a year earlier.
With PTI inputs