Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi

Business Sphere - - CONTENTS - By Our Cor­re­spon­dent

Of­fer­ing a lift to the Prime Min­is­ter of the world's largest democ­racy, one who is very pop­u­lar, has won a fa­mous man­date and is of­ten re­ferred to as one of the most pow­er­ful men in the world, would be an hon­our to al­most any­body. Do­ing it more than once would un­doubt­edly make you feel very priv­i­leged. But if you are a cash-strapped, deep-in-the-red air car­rier like Air In­dia, it could prove to be a bur­den. And so it hap­pens that the Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia, Naren­dra Modi, owes Rs 134 crore to the air­line for char­tered flights he em­barked upon no less than 10 times be­tween June and De­cem­ber 2015. The com­pany has raised the in­voices to all these trips but as has be­come the norm, the bills are yet to be cleared. It is not to say the PMO will not pay - it al­ways has in the past - but there would be a de­lay, and in any busi­ness that costs money. The in­ter­est it­self would be size­able. "This is a cash-strapped air­line that does not make money. Why is there such a de­lay on the part of the high­est of­fice in the coun­try to set­tle these bills? Who bears the cost of the in­ter­est?" says Lokesh Ba­tra, a re­tired navy com­modore who has be­come an RTI vet­eran. "Ide­ally, the PMO should set­tle each of these bills within a month of re­cev­ing the in­voices." The PMO it­self has been cagey about re­veal­ing ex­penses of each of Modi's for­eign trips. RTI ap­pli­ca­tions yield trun­cated replies, and rea­sons like "bill un­der process" or "bill not re­ceived" are lib­er­ally used. The fresh de­tails came to light af­ter a separate RTI was filed by Ba­tra di­rectly to Air In­dia. The PMO web­site men­tions de­tails only till the Prime Min­is­ter's Aus­tralia and Myan­mar visit back in March 2015. That in­voice of Rs 22.6 crore along with seven oth­ers in­clud­ing four from for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh's ten­ure dat­ing back to Septem­ber 2013 was cleared on Jan­uary 29 this year. The to­tal amount dis­bursed was Rs 147.9 crore. The de­lay in pay­ment ranged from 14-29 months. The air­line re­ported an op­er­at­ing loss of Rs 2,636.10 crore in 2014/15 and lags the tar­geted fi­nan­cial pa­ram­e­ters laid down in the turn­around plan drawn up in 2012 when it got a bailout pack­age of Rs 30,000 crore. "You can­not blame de­lay in pay­ment from the Prime Min­is­ter's Of­fice for this. In the over­all con­text when the air­line is bur­dened with so many in­ef­fi­cien­cies, Rs 134 crore is noth­ing. And it is not as if pay­ments are not made at all. The bills are al­ways set­tled," says a for­mer Air In­dia chair­man. "You can say to some ex­tent that it is an ir­ri­ta­tion. But that is the way bu­reau­cracy and the govern­ment func­tions here. It does not get any awards for swift­ness." For an air­line sur­viv­ing on the tax­payer's money, ev­ery drop should count.

Of­fer­ing a lift to the Prime Min­is­ter of the world's largest

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