Government owes Rs 268 crore to Air India; top ministries, Parliament are biggest debtors

An RTI reply details who owes how much to the airline. Security agencies, diplomatic missions and the armed forces also find mention.

ByAyush Tiwari
Government owes Rs 268 crore to Air India; top ministries, Parliament are biggest debtors
Shambhavi Thakur
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The government of India owes Rs 268.8 crore in outstanding bills to Air India as of March 31, 2021. Of this, the commissioner of customs under the ministry of finance owes Rs 64 crore to the airline alone. The department of posts under the ministry of communications has dues worth Rs 31 crore. The office of the executive officer of the Lok Sabha secretariat has tabs worth Rs 17 crore, followed by the controller of defence accounts of the Indian navy at Rs 16.8 crore.

These figures were disclosed earlier this month in a right to information reply by the airline to requests by activist Commodore Lokesh Batra. They list government ministries, security agencies, armed forces, diplomatic missions, and other public authorities.

The debt-ridden airline, which was nationalised in 1953, was acquired by the Tata group on October 8.

As of July 31, 2021, three ministries – home affairs, external affairs and defence – have outstanding dues of Rs 33.7 crore with Air India for VVIP flights alone. This is a significant drop from two years ago, when, according to the Week, the government owed nearly Rs 800 crore to the airline for VVIP flights.

Other ministries aren’t too far behind. In addition to the Rs 31 crore owed by the department of posts, the office of the director general of posts and telegraphs under the ministry of communications is yet to pay Rs 3.8 crore to the ailing airline, more than double the Rs 1.6 crore owed by the department of personnel and training under the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions.

The list also includes the Central Bureau of Investigation at Rs 67 lakh, the Indian Council of Medical Research at Rs 45 lakh, Pawan Hans, a PSU that provides chopper services, at Rs 44 lakh, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India at Rs 38 lakh, the Reserve Bank of India at Rs 34 lakh, and the Central Water Commission at Rs 23 lakh.

Government agencies like the Intelligence Bureau and the Enforcement Directorate also appear in the list. The multiple sums listed under the IB in the RTI reply total nearly Rs 2 crore, including a tab of Rs 31 lakh against a “section officer”.

The ED has outstanding bills of Rs 32 lakh, which includes Rs 3 lakh in the name of an assistant director and Rs 3.5 lakh for the chief enforcement officer.

The Rajya Sabha has outstanding Air India bills worth Rs 9 crore. Of this, Rs 4.7 crore finds mention under the name of the senior executive officer of the upper house’s secretariat and Rs 61 lakh by its under secretary.

The Lok Sabha fares worse. In addition to the Rs 17 crore owed by its secretariat’s executive officer, Rs 4.3 crore are listed against the secretariat itself. Another Rs 1.8 crore is listed against the under secretary of the lower house’s secretariat.

Indian embassies, high commissions, and consulates owe more than Rs 35 crore to Air India. Diplomatic missions in Europe hog half of these dues at Rs 17 crore, followed by those in the United States and Canada at Rs 7 crore and in West Asia and Africa at Rs 6 crore.

Dues owed by the armed forces also run into crores, especially by the Border Security Force. Rs 45 lakh is owed by the office of the director of the BSF Academy, followed by Rs 38 lakh by the deputy commandant of the BSF’s Mizoram and Cachar frontier and Rs 24 lakh by a BSF assistant commandant. The subsidiary training centres of the BSF is Kashmir and Indore owe the airline Rs 19 lakh and Rs 12 lakh respectively.

A 2016 report in the Times of India pegged Air India’s total debt at Rs 50,000 crore. According to the Hindu, the airline owes Rs 16,000 crore in unpaid fuel bills to oil companies, airport operators and vendors.

For comments, Newslaundry reached out to the ministry of finance, ministry of home affairs, ministry of communications, the secretariats of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the CAG, ICMR and Pawan Hans. This story will be updated if we receive a response.

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