M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Exclusive
PM, Patel to stay away from planes’ purchase
Swati Chaturvedi
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 19
For the first time, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the Union Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr Praful Patel, have distanced themselves from the contentious issue of purchase of aircraft for the national carriers — Indian Airlines and Air-India.

Now a committee headed by Mr C.G. Somaya, a former Comptroller & Auditor-General and former CVC, and comprising the present Secretary, Expenditure, and Secretary, Civil Aviation, will take all decisions regarding the imminent fleet augmentation worth around Rs 10,000 crore for Indian Airlines. An “immediate” notification to this effect was issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on December 14.

Speaking to The Tribune, Mr Patel was candid about the motivation behind the move. “Ill-informed gossip, including details of pay-offs, have been floating around. In this country, everybody speaks with authority on corruption. When I took over, I had decided I would have to bite the bullet of aircraft purchase since the last planes were brought when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister. If we don’t buy aircraft we might as well shut down the airlines.”

Mr Patel then went and shared his feelings with the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, offering to let them take all the decisions. Then the three jointly took the decision to distance themselves from the process.

Asked if he was relinquishing the most coveted power of the Aviation Minister, Mr Patel, who still drives his private car and does not draw a salary, had a simple answer: “I was fed up of all the baseless allegations of corruption. Every time aircraft have been bought, a CBI inquiry has followed as night follows day. I thought this would be a pragmatic way to do the job and avoid the muck.”

Mr Patel is clearly hurt by the attacks that followed when he asked Indian Airlines to revaluate their needs after the IA Board had recommended that Airbus industries be given the order to buy the aircraft. Many critics had accused Mr Patel of interfering in the working of a PSU and derailing the process in order to favour rival Boeing.

Mr Patel now clearly feels vindicated and stresses that he has voluntarily abdicated his authority.

Gossip and innuendo have been rife along with lobbying at the highest political level over the vexed issue of aircraft purchase. United States President George Bush had called former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee to lobby for Boeing while Colin Powell and Secretary of State Condeeleza Rice had lobbied with former minister Jaswant Singh.

HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |