Air India plane purchase: SC asks CBI to complete probe in 6 months
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the CBI to complete in the next six months its probe into allegations of irregularities in purchase or hiring of 111 aircraft for Air India for a whopping Rs70,000 crore when Praful Patel was the civil aviation minister.
The top court refused to accept a plea of the CBI seeking time to complete its probe saying “the investigation has to be completed in days not in years”. A bench of justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U. U. Lalit said that the apex court had earlier asked the CBI to complete its investigation in June, but it failed to do so.
“It’s around one year since the last order of apex court on 5 January. This is sufficient time to complete the investigation. Can you give us any deadline how much time you need to complete the investigation,” the bench asked additional solicitor general (ASG) P.S. Narasimha appearing for the CBI. The ASG said that CBI has already registered an FIR in the case and is investigating all aspects but since there are accused, who are residing abroad, letter rogatory needs to be sent.
“Two years time should be given to complete the probe on all the aspects,” the ASG said. To this, the bench said, “No, it cannot be done, you complete the probe in next six months. Investigations has to be completed in days not years.” The top court had on 5 January, asked the CBI to complete its probe by June into the allegations of “serious irregularities” in purchase or hiring of 111 aircrafts.
It had also asked the agency to look into the fresh allegations made by NGO CPIL that Patel made Air India to buy biometric system for a hefty sum of Rs1,000 crore. The Centre had earlier told the court 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).
It had said that some of the observations in the case were made by senior BJP leader 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 19 January, 2015. The NGO had earlier told the court that Canada’s superior court has convicted a person for paying bribe to the then minister for the purchase of biometric system for a whopping cost of Rs1,000 crore for the airline.
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 in 2005-06 of 111 aircraft for national airlines costing around Rs70,000 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. 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”.