New Delhi: No money was paid to the Indian Air Force for the five flights undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by IAF Boeing business jet (BBJ) aircraft that were chartered for his foreign visits. This has been disclosed by the IAF before the Central Information Commission in response to a query. The IAF has in its reply on January 6 also noted that “the prime minister is entitled for free airlift in VVIP aircrafts of the IAF” and that “no bill has been raised for such airlifts”.
In his application from September 2016, RTI activist Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh K. Batra had asked the IAF for information on the laid down steps, instructions, process and procedure for clearing bills or invoices of the IAF BBJ aircraft. He sought the information in connection to the prime minister’s “PM India” website which mentioned that between August 2014 and May 2016, the Modi had undertaken five foreign visits by the aircraft.
In response to the query, air headquarters stated that as per the rules “no charges will be recovered for the use of the aircraft by the president, vice-president, the prime minister (except when he/she travels otherwise than on official duty), the minister of defence, minister of home affairs, minister of state in the ministry of defence, defence secertary and the serious service and civilian officers connected with the defence organisation as well as the cabinet secretary when his journey is for defence purposes.”
While stating that no charges are recovered in such a scenario, the reply stated that “for the use of aircraft by other entitled personages (including cabinet secretary, when journey is not for defence purposes) full chartered rates” will be recovered and credited to the defence services estimates.
It elaborated that these rates, which are applicable from April 1, 1999 range from Rs 542,000 per flying hour in case of Boeing 737 aircraft to Rs 220,000 per flying hour in case of AVRO HS-748 aircraft to Rs 197,000 in the case of MI-8 helicopter.
In addition to these recovery rates, the IAF said it also realises detention charges at the rate of 50 % of the charges, subject to certain conditions.
As per the rules, revealed by the RTI, special concessions have been provided for the prime minister. The rules lay down that “no recoveries will be made in cases in which the prime minister considers it desirable that airlifts should be provided free of charge,” it said.
There is also a provision for free use of IAF VIP aircraft for the airlift of non entitled persons. A case can be put up to the prime minister for approval and he is only required to seek exemption from charges for such a purpose by inserting a para urging the ministry of defence to provide the airlift free of cost.
Air headquarters have also noted that “when the prime minister travels otherwise than on official duty, he/she will pay fares for himself/herself and members of his/her parties other than the personnel entitled to draw travelling allowance.”
It added that the fares payable will be calculated at commercial rates if the destination is linked by a regular commercial air service and in other cases with reference to the per passenger per kilometre rates notified by the ministry/air headquarters from time to time.”
However, the reply has not satisfied the petitioner. Batra said while the air headquarters has provided a voluminous reply, it has missed out on the key point – which was primarily the process and procedure involved in ascertaining the expenses. “As per the prime minister’s website, he undertook five foreign trips by the BBJ aircraft during the period. Of these, two were to Nepal and one each to Singapore, Bangladesh and Iran. The reply still does not answer how much money was spent on these trips and how it is being accounted for.”
The RTI activist also noted that the commercial rates, which the air headquarters said, were charged at 1999 rates. “So is it being submitted that these rates have not been revised for the last nearly 18 years?” he asked.