VIP status on Air India flight: Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju apologises; Devendra Fadnavis defiant

New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju has apologised for the flight delay controversy, saying “based on the information in the public domain, these things should never have happened”. “As India’s Civil Aviation Minister, I apologise to anyone inconvenienced by this incident. A passenger who has paid (air fare) has the right to go and go on time”.

He however added that the “real version is yet to come, we have to listen to all concerned”. “We are investigating what happened, working on plans to avoid such incidents in future”, said Raju.

Perhaps taking a dig, Raju added “Lot of colleagues who tell me that after Air India started operating on time, they missed flights”.

However, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis was furious over the issue, saying he would initiate criminal proceedings once back in India.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) had on Thursday confirmed that an Air India aircraft, plying from Leh to Delhi, received a request for a delay in departure to accommodate a ‘VIP passenger’, adding that three passengers were not allowed to board the plane for the same.

The flight, which was scheduled to take off at 10.20 a.m., eventually left for Delhi at 11.12 am.

The airport authorities further stated that the captain of flight AI 446 has told the passengers that the delay was not due to the fault of aircraft.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju was accompanied by Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh and they were to fly to Delhi from Leh on June 24, when the reported incident took place.

Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh claimed that the timings of flight, in which he and Rijiju were travelling by, had been brought ahead by one hour.

“We had confirmed tickets for the flight but the flight timings were changed at the last moment and was preponed by one hour. We are also customers. It was a plane and not a bus that it moves as soon as all the seats are occupied,” he told ANI.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Ministry has sought reports from Air India on the incidents involving Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister Kiren Rijiju which allegedly led to delay of flights.

“We are awaiting reports on the (two) incidents from Air India,” Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey said.

The Ministry has asked Air India to submit the reports soon and “would take a call after receiving them”, he said.

On June 24, a flight from Leh to Delhi carrying Rijiju was delayed for about an hour and three passengers, including a child, were allegedly offloaded to accommodate him and his PA.

Rijuju had claimed it was not a “delay” as the departure of the flight was “preponed” due to technical reasons.

Asked whether three passengers were made to deboard the flight to accommodate him, Rijiju said he was not aware of any such thing. “I am totally unaware whether anyone was asked to deboard. If it was done, it is completely wrong and unacceptable,” he said to PTI.

Criticising Rijiju, Congress leader PC. Chacko said that the incident shows that the fundamental right is infringed upon by a minister.

“What Mr. Rijiju has done is uncalled for. It shows that the fundamental right is infringed upon by a minister. I remember that even during the Emergency, when some flight was delayed for about five to ten minutes for some Minister, it had become big news,” said Chacko.

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