New Delhi: Air India may find itself nose down and out of the reckoning, but that isn't stopping its top bosses from living life maharaja style and literally taking the airline for a ride. Former Air India CMD Vishwapati Trivedi flew his entire family around the world on a holiday, all business class.
An RTI query by an activist shows that Trivedi availed 161 free passes within 16 months between 2006-08 when he was CMD Air India, even though his entitlement is only two free and two concessional passes and that too in lieu of Leave Travel Concession (LTC).
When asked whether this was the right thing to do, he promptly answered that it was written under the rules.
"It was under the rules and they were not taken, they were authorisations which were not used," he told CNN-IBN.
Trivedi took advantage of a Board decision to expand the definition of family to include spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, son-in-law and daughter-in-law. His extended family holidayed at exotic locations like Male, Maldives, Thailand and Singapore - all at the taxpayer's expense.
In his defence, Trivedi said, "It's part of the rules. It's like LTC. People travel with family for LTC. They take their family."
When asked how many times did he avail of this, he said, "I have no idea about this. I don't keep account of this, my PA keeps account."
And that's not all. This practice of free passes still continues, despite the Aviation Ministry deciding to stop that benefit after the the Central Vigilance Commission stepped in. Even the definition of family that was to have been pruned hasn't been done yet.
Praful Patel too, ducked any questions on the issue, simply saying that CNN-IBN should ask the officer in question if they wanted their questions answered.
The Prime Minister has now intervened and has set a 30-day restructuring deadline for Air India, even as the Government braces itself for an Opposition onslaught in Parliament on the issue.
Even as the national carrier is bled to the ground, it isn't stopping its top executives from flying high with the system of unlimited passes. But with the matter now being debated in Parliament and the Prime Minister stepping in, the message is clear - Air India has to tighten its belt and the exercise has to begin from the top.