The Central Information Commission (CIC), being a quasi-judicial body had the jurisdiction to hear an RTI plea filed by activist Commodore (Retd) Lokesh Batra under section 18 of the RTI Act in presence of PMO & the Ministry of External Affairs on 3rd January. In his RTI plea, Lokesh Batra had sought information about 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.
The stone-broke, deep in the red – Air India had a consolidated debt of Rs.51,367.07 crore at the end of 2014-15 fiscal. It posted successive losses of at Rs.5,490.16 crore, Rs.6,279.6 crore and Rs.5,859.91 crore in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively. The carrier is surviving on Rs.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-PMO is simply unacceptable.
The bills that are “under process” and “not received” keep piling up with each passing quarter.
Air India has also not been proactive and upbeat in recovering dues from the PMO office. It is not very keen to recue 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 like MTNL, BSNL, ITDC, BESCOM etc. The government agencies has shown lack of will towards recovering dues owed to them by various political parties, politicians and high offices. In 2003, Indian Youth Congress owed a sum of Rs.2,91,958 to ITDC. Though recovery proceedings were initiated under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 and to obtain recovery certificate under Section 14 thereof, but no steps had been taken for 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 Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) which took a stern decision to cut power supply to former Queen Mother Ratna Rajya Laxmi Shah for not paying outstanding bill of 37 lakh rupees. NEA had similarly cut power lines of Gyanendra Shah, the last monarch of Nepal.
The utter disregard displayed by high offices & political masters towards clearance of government agencies’ dues had 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 has issued a directive to government agencies to discontinue the existing facilities like 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 PMO without compunction, it lowers its own stature in the eyes of public. A common man, 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 PMO pays up all dues within a time frame, including penal levies and interest. PMO, on the other hand should pay their bills promptly to set an example for others and also to restore people’s faith in them.