Increased numbers of trips, cheaper flights mark PM Modi’s travel bills
Air India has so far billed Rs 443.4 crore for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official foreign visits, the frequency of which are seen as a reflection of India’s growing engagement with the rest of the world. The airline is yet to charge for the expenses incurred on five more overseas trips made by the PM.
Air India, the official airline for the Prime Minister’s overseas visits, has flown Modi on 44 international trips since he became PM in May 2014, more than any of his predecessors, according to data from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The airline sends the bills to the PMO; the money is then transferred to Air India by the government.
The Prime Minister is expected to travel to the United Arab Emirates this month, the last official overseas trip during his first term in office, to receive the UAE’s highest civilian award for the role he has played in providing a boost to bilateral strategic ties.
Although he has travelled to more countries, the expenses incurred on Modi’s foreign visits are almost Rs 50 crore less than what was spent by his immediate predecessor Manmohan Singh, during his second term ( 2009-2014). As PM, Singh undertook 38 trips abroad in those five years, and incurred an expenditure of Rs 493.22 crore.
Modi’s frequent foreign trips underline the growing interaction between India, a nuclear power and one of the fastest growing major economies, and the international community. Opposition parties have sometimes been critical of the Prime Minister for his frequent overseas trips.
One reason for the lower travel cost (overall, and on average) of Modi’s foreign trips is because he often targets multiple destinations on the same trip. In his first interview to HT in August 2015, after taking over as the PM, Modi said that he believes in “single ticket double journey” or in other words, travelling to multiple destinations during an overseas trip. While Singh travelled mostly to one or two destinations, Modi flew to as many as to six countries on a single trip when he visited Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 2015; 16 of his trips were to multiple countries.
Another reason why PM Modi’s foreign tours seem to have cost less to the exchequer is that for six other international visits, he used the business jet of the Indian Air Force (IAF) , incurring no additional expense. Modi went to Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran and Singapore in the IAF’s Boeing 737 business jet that is used round the year exclusively for VVIP travel. During Singh’s tenure, Ai India One was used even on short-haul tours such as Bangladesh and Singapore, too, had been taken into account.
These travel costs include fuel, cost of hiring the entire aircraft and cost related to crew. Other costs that may be incurred on foreign travel, such as expenses in the destination, are not included in these.
To be sure, once the remaining, unbilled trips, including the upcoming one to the UAE, are paid for, Modi’s foreign travels are likely to end up costing more, although the average is still likely to remain lower. The other five trips were to Japan, Singapore, the Maldives, Argentina and South Korea. Air India hasn’t sent the bills for those trips yet, according to government data.