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New Delhi: The aviation ministry misled the Indian Parliament about a safety audit draft report by a United Nations watchdog, a member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC) said in a letter to aviation minister Ajit Singh and aviation secretary K.N. Srivastava.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), of which India is a member, completed an audit of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in December and found it wanting in its ability to oversee safety issues, Mint reported on 11 March. The organization then clubbed India with Angola, Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Malawi, and São Tomé and Príncipe as far as safety levels were concerned.

DGCA said at the time that the regulator was taking corrective action based on the report, “which has been accepted by ICAO. This will be implemented by June 2013. Then we will invite ICAO’s team to verify the action taken".

However, the aviation ministry, under which DGCA operates, told Parliament on 13 March that it wasn’t aware of any such report. This was in response to a question (No. 2748) by parliamentarian Shivaji Adhalrao Patil and four others with the subject line ICAO audits of DGCA in the Lok Sabha.

“I have taken note and I am working on moving a privilege motion against the minister (Ajit Singh)," Patil, who had asked the question, told Mint.

The question in Parliament was: “Whether in its audit report ICAO has pointed out the poor performance of DGCA in hiring and training of staff thereby jeopardizing safety of the passengers and if so the details in this regard with the reaction of the government thereto."

The aviation ministry replied that it hadn’t got the report.

“The International Civil Aviation Organization has not made available the draft report to India of the audit carried out by them from 12th to 20th December 2012," the ministry said.

A member of CASAC, which was established in the aftermath of the Mangalore crash of an Air India Express flight in 2010 that killed 158 people, questioned the ministry’s reply.

“I am shocked to find that a false statement has been filed in the Lok Sabha based on the data submitted to you by DGCA. You are aware of the concern we have raised regarding DGCA’s action in condoning fudged log books, fudged simulator hours and fudged data. We have seen no action to correct that. I am copying, below, the answer provided by the ministry of civil aviation for an unstarred question in the Lok Sabha," Mohan Ranganathan, the member of CASAC, wrote in a letter on Thursday to Singh and Srivastava.

He said Parliament was being given false data, undermining any action on passenger safety.

“If the Parliament can be misled by false data from DGCA, there is no hope for safety in Indian aviation. India comes in the lowest 5% of member states in ICAO (13 states black-flagged in the list of 194 states), and where even the small neighbours like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan have a clear rating, it is a shame that India needs urgent and drastic correction," he wrote. “Officials in DGCA and AAI (Airports Authority of India) who have brought us down to this level must be held accountable."

Aviation secretary Srivastava declined to comment. He is scheduled to travel to Montreal, ICAO’s headquarters, on Monday, to meet the agency’s leadership there, besides having other engagements, according to a ministry official who declined to be named.

A DGCA spokesperson on Thursday justified the reply in Parliament on the grounds that it hadn’t got ICAO’s full report.

Director general of civil aviation Arun Mishra said over phone: “ICAO has shared the significant safety concerns and corrective action plan (CAP) has been submitted and accepted by ICAO, and action is being taken to address the CAP. However, the draft report of the audit will be made available by ICAO after 90 days of audit, that is by end of March, after which 45 days are given to the state for comments on the draft report. Then the report is finalized by ICAO."

Ranganathan said ICAO’s protocol contradicts Mishra’s contention.

“A copy of the interim audit report is left with DGCA by the ICAO team on the last day of the audit with their findings and recommendations. It is the state which has to respond to this interim report, which is the draft report, in 90 days. The...language is very clear on ICAO website."

The ICAO website says that on the last day of the audit, the country’s regulator gets an “audit interim report" of the “findings and recommendations". DGCA itself told Parliament that the last day of the audit was 20 December.

India’s former representative to ICAO said it was time the country tightened up safety processes.

“There has been a huge slippage in civil aviation over the last decade in the recruitment of technical officers at DGCA, which is reflecting in air safety," said Sanat Kaul, a former civil aviation ministry officer and former representative of India in ICAO. “Better salaries and better headhunting (procedures), which are not reliant on the mercy of the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission), are urgently needed. The inadequacy of the recruitment system followed by UPSC is damaging the" country’s air safety.

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