New Delhi: The government auditor said Air India overpaid for limousine services in the US to the tune of Rs. 75.26 lakh besides hiring foreign pilots at high salaries when cheaper Indian pilots were available even as the state-run carrier was struggling with massive debt and was being bailed out by the government.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said the limousines had been hired during official visits of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US.
Air India operates a dedicated fleet of planes for the official travel of the Prime Minister and is sanctioned funds for this every year.
CAG said hourly rates paid by the company were up to 2.5 times higher than those paid by the Indian embassy when it hired the same kind of vehicles “due to acceptance of non-competitive and unreasonably high rates”.
Air India didn’t offer any comment for the story. It had told CAG in its response that the transport company gave bulk rates to the embassy and therefore, these were lower. CAG rejected that argument.
“The contention that the embassy was being offered discount due to higher volume of business was also not plausible as the rates in contracts concluded by the embassy and the company with the transporter were firm and final and irrespective of the volume of business offered. Furthermore, (during) the VVIP visits in 2009 and 2010, the agreements drawn up by the embassy were for a lesser number of hours than the hours indicated in the agreements drawn up by the company in November 2009.”
The auditor also said the airline had employed foreign pilots in the past few years although Indian pilots were available at Rs.3 lakh cheaper.
“This indicated a general absence of concern for the financial health of the company which was reeling under severe cash crunch during this period,” CAG said.
Mohan Ranganthan, member of the government-appointed civil aviation safety advisory council, said further investigations were needed.