The Ministry of Defence will think twice before allowing Prime Ministers or their Cabinet colleagues to fly the air force’s VVIP aircraft for unofficial journeys. Some of them simply refuse to pay up.
The ministry is finding it hard to recover around Rs 7 crore from two former PMs and a Cabinet minister who haven’t cleared their outstanding dues dating back to the 1990s. Defence minister AK Antony told Lok Sabha on Monday that late PM Chandrashekhar owed the government over Rs 5.91 crore on account of unofficial journeys he made between January and June 1991.
Another former PM, HD Deve Gowda, too is yet to pick up the tab for journeys undertaken during September 1996-March 1997. He cost the state exchequer Rs 54.61 lakh. Former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla is yet to shell out Rs 4.60 lakh. The ministry is not taking things lightly any longer. “Necessary steps have been taken by the government to recover the dues by way of sending notices or initiating appropriate recovery process,” said Antony.
Politicians, of course, are not the only ones abusing authority. The wives of service chiefs have drawn flak from the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for using air force’s VIP aircraft in their capacity as heads of Army/Air Force Wives Welfare Association.
Condemning the diversion of IAF’s aircraft from operational tasks to a VIP role, the national auditor said last year that AWWA and AFWWA presidents were not even covered under the category of persons entitled to use the VIP aircraft. As of last year, the IAF had modified eight aircraft for VIP role without the approval of the government, despite having a separate Communications squadron with aircraft for VIP use. Audit scrutiny disclosed that the modified aircraft were utilised predominantly by senior officers, AWWA and AFWWA presidents and their accompanying staff. These flights cost the state exchequer Rs 75 crore.
The IAF has modified additional aircraft for VVIP use even though there was a mere 27 per cent utilisation of aircraft during 1999-2007.