Ministry rebuts CAG charges against 'profligate' Air India

The civil aviation ministry on Friday sharply rebutted a report from the Comptroller & Auditor General tabled in Parliament on Thursday strongly criticising the functioning of 'national carrier' Air India.

The ministry defended a Rs41,000-crore aircraft deal entered into by Air India, policy and blamed the CAG for lack of understanding of the complexities of the aviation sector.

''The decision to acquire aircraft for Air India, Indian Airlines and Air India Express was based on an urgent need to replace the ageing fleet (almost 20 years old) and building capacity for future growth in view of fierce competition in both domestic and international sectors,'' reports quoted a ministry official as saying.

The ministry called the CAG report contradictory, as on the one hand it said the process took unduly long from 1996 onwards, and on the other it said the process was speedily concluded. ''All due processes for acquisition were followed by AI and government,'' said the official.

The ministry debunked charges that a large number of aircraft have been acquired by the carrier. ''The net number of wide body aircraft in Air India, 20, is much less than what it was before the acquisition process,'' the source said.

On CAG's charge that the foreign carriers were allowed to increase flights to and from the country, causing considerable loss to Air India, the ministry said that it had to consider ''the needs of the travelling public of country'' based on India's economic, geo-political, strategic and other interests.

''India is directly connected to only 50 countries of the world either by Indian or foreign carriers. The other 140 countries of the world can be accessed through international hubs like Dubai, Singapore, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Hong Kong to name a few. Travelling through these hubs to other non-connected countries is imperative,''said the official quoted by The Indian Express.

The ministry had criticised the report in the house as well during its presentation on Thursday.