Three passengers, including a child, were allegedly offloaded from an Air India aircraft on June 24 to accommodate minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju and his aide, triggering a blizzard of criticism from civil society and opposition parties.
The Leh-Delhi flight was minutes before takeoff and the doors were already shut when Rijiju and his assistant reached, eventually delaying the plane by over an hour, agencies reported. The minister, however, denied the allegations, saying he wasn’t aware of any such incident.
"I am totally unaware whether anyone was asked to de-board. If it was done, it is completely wrong and unacceptable," he said.
This is the second such incident this week after Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ principal secretary held up a Mumbai- Newark flight for more than 90 minutes on Monday because he couldn’t produce a valid visa, leading to widespread criticism of the supposed abuse of power.
Opposition parties piled on the government, saying such acts of VIP privilege were unacceptable.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi should break his silence on the VIP culture of his ministers. The flight in which Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was travelling was delayed on his request. Kiren Rijiju boarded the flight after three passengers were asked to step off the flight. It is a serious matter,” Congress leader PL Punia said on Thursday.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Dilip Pandey demanded Rijiju apologise and said he couldn’t delay flights on account of his powerful position. An Air India spokesperson said more details have been sought on the incident.
However, the 43-year-old minister told PTI the Air India flight he was supposed to take along with Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh was suddenly rescheduled. He was returning to Delhi after taking part the "Sindhu Darshan" festival and his helicopter couldn’t come to Leh owing to bad weather conditions.
"The deputy CM asked me to accompany him in an Air India flight which was supposed to depart at 11:40am. But to our utter surprise, when we reached Leh airport at 10:20am, we found the door of the aircraft closed and about to take off,” Rijiju said.
“Then the deputy CM lodged a protest with the civil aviation minister for the unannounced rescheduling of the aircraft.”
Rijiju said the flight wasn’t delayed but was rescheduled for technical reasons.
"The departure was at 1140 hrs...I don't know...somehow there was a rescheduling issue...It was not a delay..it was a communication gap," he said.