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'Why is the prime minister not transparent?'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Last updated on: March 28, 2018 12:48 IST
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'I am only asking about his travel bills and expenditure.'

Commodore Lokesh Batra (retd) has been filing right to information applications on how much Prime Minister Narendra D Modi has spent on his foreign visits these last four years.

In response to his latest RTI application, Air India refused to disclose the expenditure incurred on the prime minister's flights.

In a mail to Commodore Batra, Air India wrote: 'Records pertaining to PM's flight have certain information which may have security implications and are, hence, exempted from disclosure under clause (g) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, 2005.'

'As such, Air India is advised not to disclose information relating to PM's flight to such RTI queries.'

"I am only asking about the bills and expenditure," Commodore Batra, below, who served the Indian Navy from 1967 till 2002 when he retired, tells's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.


You have consistently tried to find out how much Prime Minister Modi spent on each of his visits abroad by filing RTI pleas.
Do you see any change in the government's attitude to your latest RTI application?

When Prime Minister Modi travels, he travels on public money.

When the prime minister, President and vice president travel abroad on Air India planes and do not pay money, then you can see the loss that it has to bear.

The amount is huge and that too in crores. And the government is bailing out Air India with tax-payers' money.

On one hand the Government of India blames Air India for bad accounting practice, but when it comes to their own doings, they do not clear its bill for whatever reasons.

Two years ago the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) found out that the government owe Rs 513.27 crore (Rs 5.13 billion) to Air India.

Last year, on March 31, 2017, the amount of Rs 451.7 crore (Rs 4.517 billion) was still pending from the government.

So Rs 451.7 crore was not paid by the prime minister's office to Air India till March 31, 2017?

No. The Government of India owed Air India that much money on VVIP visits which includes those of the President, vice president and prime minister.

In addition, the MEA (ministry of external affairs) also has to bear the cost of State guests when they come to India.

This (amount) also includes when Air India is used during disasters in the country.

But the larger bill amount is from the above three VIPs.

Now the President's expenditure is budgetary and it comes under the ministry of defence.

The vice president ('s bills) comes under the ministry of external affairs and the prime minister's expenditure is put under the ministry of home affairs.

My concern is: Why is this payment delayed to a public sector company which is run on tax-payers' money?

How many bills has the PMO not cleared to Air India?

You can see that on the PMO Web site (external link).

The PMO took six months for payment of Japan and Sri Lanka travel bills after they were received, but cleared the last five bills received on February 28 within 23 days.

Different government departments are involved in settling these bills.
It must be a huge task to clear the PM's Air India bills.

I am only saying: Why are these things taking time in the digital age?

The delay must be cut down at every level.

Is Air India legally permitted to not tell you the cost of the PM's flights?

In one order, the CIC (Central Information Commission) said the travels of the prime minister are confidential and cannot be disclosed because of national security reasons.

I completely agree with that.

But there is a difference between travelling arrangement and travelling funds.

If the prime minister is travelling from Parliament to his office there can be one car or two cars as a security measure, I understand that as I am a defence personnel.

I am only asking about the bills and expenditure.

Why are you bothered about the PM's visits abroad?

He is our prime minister and whatever he does is good for the nation, but then it tumbles down (to), why is he not transparent?

The PM is the CEO of the country and all his bills the Government of India owes Air India should be addressed.

I have no issues with him, but his bills have been pending for the last six months and not cleared.

If the prime minister follows (payment rules), then the whole State will follow.

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