PAC should probe Air India’s aircraft buy plan: Delhi HC

* Court doubts bonafides of deal,asks PAC to look at collusion angle

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Published: June 2, 2012 1:03 am

The Delhi High Court,questioning Air India’s aircraft acquisition plan of procuring 111 planes for Rs 67,000 crore,on Friday said that the bonafides of the deal was in contention and that it required a thorough probe by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament to determine if it was done for personal gains.

Underlining that the PAC was already looking into various aspects pertaining to the acquisition programme,the court asked the Committee to investigate the matter from “all angles” and examine the “feasibility and commercial viability” of the deal and then lease a large number of these aircraft.

It also asked the PAC to examine if the loss of Air India’s market share due to its decision to give up its profit making routes to the private airlines was deliberate and if the senior officers of civil aviation ministry and top management of National Aviation Company of India (NACIL) had any role in it.

The Bench also asked the PAC to examine if it would be feasible for the government and NACIL to cancel the purchase order for which payments have not yet been made and the aircraft have not yet been delivered.

“If a prima facie case of imprudence,gross negligence,hinting towards clear malafide and violation of settled procedures in taking the decision etc is made out,it needs deep probing and an investigation by a SIT or CBI,” said the court,adding it hoped that the PAC shall try to complete the task with “alacrity” and submit its report at the earliest.

“The comments and critique of the expert bodies put a question mark on the bonafides of the Aircraft Requisition Programme, lease of accounts,giving away profitable routes to private airlines,retaining only loss-making routes and also unprofessional decision of the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India,” said the Bench.

While the PAC carries out its probe,the court said,the central government must take a decision within six months on the feasibility of cancelling the routes by lateral lease agreement as per the PAC’s recommendation and also on effectuating and implementing the complete merger of the Air India and Indian Airlines in a time-bound manner.

The court was hearing the PIL filed by civil society Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) through advocate Prashant Bhushan. The petition had sought a CVC probe into aircraft acquisition deal and its loss of market-share by giving up profitable routes and timings.

MUDDY WATERS

* The Delhi HC has asked the PAC to examine if giving up profit making routes was a deliberate act

* The court also asked the government to effectuate and implement the complete merger of Air India and Indian Airlines in a time-bound manner

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