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Air India sale: Here’s how UPA’s Praful Patel, AK Antony, others catapulted national carrier into debt

New Delhi: Tata Sons is finally buying Air India for a whopping Rs 18,000 crore from the Indian government, bringing back the airline started by Tata Group’s chairman JRD Tata in 1932, under its portfolio. The airline, once a revenue source for the government, was catapulted into debt by nonsensical decisions of the UPA government coupled with abuse by its ministers such as Praful Patel and AK Antony, among others.

Praful Patel became the Civil Aviation Minister in May 2004, when Air India was the market leader with a 42 per cent market share. The dawn of his tenure as aviation minister proved to be the dusk of Air India’s golden days.

Patel was allegedly involved in a fleet acquisition scam wherein the ministry decided to buy 68 planes for more than Rs 50,000 crore without any revenue plan or even a route map to deploy so many additional aircraft. The NDA government had earlier proposed to add 28 aircraft to Air India’s fleet.

Out of 68 planes, the Ministry had proposed to buy 27 Dreamliners from Boeing, a deal that would have benefited the American planemaker. While additional secretary and financial adviser in the civil aviation ministry V Subramanian opposed the decision, he was later shunted off.

Further, government analysts also questioned why an airline with a turnover of Rs 7,000 crore should place orders of Rs 50,000 crore. CAG, which looked at the deal later, reported:

“The acquisition appears to be supply driven … the increase in number does not withstand audit scrutiny, considering the market requirement … or forecast of the future, also the commercial viability projected to justify the acquisition…”

“The airline is in a crisis situation. Salary payments and ATF obligations are becoming difficult. If the airline has to survive, the management and employees will have to set personal interests aside and undertake some harsh decisions, till the health of the airline improves”

Moreover, Patel was also alleged to benefit his close friend Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher airlines by ordering managers at Indian Airlines to withdraw flights from specific sectors or change the timings of existing flights. He was nicknamed “Minister for KingFisher” by sections within Indian Airlines for his acts.

Praful Patel’s daughter Poorna Patel also allegedly abused Air India during her tenure as hospitality manager with the Indian Premier League (IPL). In one instance, she allegedly aborted a Delhi-Coimbatore Air India flight to fly her and some IPL players from Chandigarh to Chennai. Also Read: Coal crisis: Power cuts imposed in Punjab as plants run at reduced capacity

Coming to another UPA minister, AK Antony, he reportedly misused Air India’s funds to please his wife, Elizabeth Antony. Notably, Air India had bought two paintings of Elizabeth Antony for Thiruvananthapuram International Airport’s Terminal 3. She, in fact, didn’t have put an exhibition of her paintings till that time. Air India probably didn’t have any other option. Also Read: Air India sale: Here’s how UPA’s years of mismanagement dethroned Maharaja