January 5, 2017 7:44:07 pm
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked CBI to complete its probe by June into allegations of “serious irregularities” in purchase or hiring of 111 aircraft for Air India that had cost around Rs 70,000 crore during the tenure of Praful Patel as the civil aviation minister in 2005-06. The apex court also asked the agency to look into the fresh allegations made by an NGO CPIL that Patel made Air India to buy biometric system for a hefty sum of Rs 1000 crore.
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“CBI shall take into consideration all the allegations made in the pleadings of the instant petition, and take a call thereon, based on the evidence collected. We hope and expect, that CBI will adhere to the time frame indicated to us, namely, June, 2017,” a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices N V Ramana and D Y Chandrachud said.
During the hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi informed the bench that most of the allegations referred to in the petition are a result of adverse comments made by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC).
“Some of the observations or remarks were made by Murli Manohar Joshi, as the Chairman of PAC, in February 2014 and a detailed response has been filed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation on January 19, 2015,” he said. Rohatgi said some further queries were also made by PAC and another detailed reply was filed by the ministry on May 3, 2016 and the subsequent report was tabled in Parliament.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, said that Canada’s superior court has convicted a person for paying bribe to the then minister for the purchase of biometric system for whopping Rs 1000 crore for the airline. “CBI is already investigating the case and is likely to conclude the probe. PAC has also looked into it and report is filed in Parliament. What more do you want. We cannot hold their (CBI) arms. We must trust our agencies,” the bench told to Bhushan.
Rohatgi said that CBI has also been investigating the case since February 27, 2013, following the allegations and the probe is likely to be completed by June this year. The AG said that 55 witnesses have been investigated and nothing survives in the petition as all the allegations are being looked into.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan urged the court to not to dispose of the petition and the matter should be listed again in June for consideration of the status of the probe. “We find no justification to retain the matter, inasmuch as retaining the matter leads to an inference, that we do not wish to project,” the bench said, adding that the aggrieved parties can take recourse to the remedies available in consonance with the law and disposed of the matter.
The NGO had earlier moved to the apex court against the government and Air India seeking a CBI/SIT probe into alleged irregularities, including purchase of aircraft, and giving up of profit-making routes allegedly to private airlines during the UPA dispensation.
The court had in September 2012 issued notice to the government and Air India on the plea of CPIL seeking a CBI/SIT probe into the alleged irregularities. The plea had alleged that various decisions taken during the tenure of Patel were meant to benefit private airlines and had caused huge loss to Air India.
The NGO had referred to several of Patel’s decisions, including the “massive” purchase of 111 aircraft for national airlines costing around Rs 70,000 crore, taking a large number of planes on lease, giving up profit-making routes and timings in favour of private airlines and the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines.
It approached the apex court challenging a Delhi High Court order dismissing its plea into the alleged irregularities. “A responsible committee like PAC is looking into the matter and we are not giving any direction at this stage but expect PAC to look into the matter from all angles…,” the high court had said.
In its petition before the apex court, the NGO had alleged that the actions and decisions of the then civil aviation minister “ruined our national carriers, cost the national exchequer tens of thousands of crores and the only beneficiary of the above decisions were foreign aircraft manufacturers, private and foreign airlines”.
“Thus the above actions were clearly made on extraneous considerations and resulted in pecuniary benefits to private companies, which is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act,” it had said.
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