AI mum on denying retirement benefits to former employee

The former chief flight purser had discovered through an RTI plea that other ineligible workers benefited under a special Voluntary Retirement Scheme, while his application --though deserving -- was rejected

He's been waging a lone battle for about four years now. Pradeep Khanna (57), a former chief flight purser with Indian Airlines (now part of Air India), believes he is facing reprisal for exposing irregularities in the national carrier's golden handshake scheme.

Blow to the whistle-blower: Pradeep Khanna had earlier filed an
RTI plea questioning the VRRS 2007 benefits of Neelam Rudy � wife
of BJP leader and former civil aviation minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy (below)

Despite his eligibility being proven in 2010 by the vigilance department, Air India is yet to respond on
why his application for special VRS was rejected.

MiD DAY report on May 17, 2010

Khanna's nightmare can be traced back to his retirement in 2008, when he was denied advantages of the airline's Voluntary Rehabilitation / Rejuvenation Scheme (VRRS) 2007. Even the vigilance inquiry report (copy with MiD DAY) submitted in 2010 authenticated that Khanna was deserving of availing the scheme. However, others -- allegedly ineligible -- got benefited. With no adequate reply on this issue, Khanna decided to approach Indian Audit and Accountant Department (IAAD) in 2010. The airline hasn't responded to the department in the last 15 months.

The RTI reply sent to Khanna by IAAD on February 24, 2012 reads: "Information has been called from the management of Air India vide letter number GAP/IAL/51/2004-05/169 on December 2, 2010, which is still awaited. A reminder for the same has been issued on February 2, 2012. After the receipt of information from the management, the audit party will suitably examine the issue."

Khanna had earlier filed an RTI plea questioning the VRRS 2007 benefits of Neelam Rudy -- wife of BJP leader and former civil aviation minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy -- the sole conferee of the programme in Northern India. MiD DAY had reported the issue on May 17, 2010 (Did minister's wife net perks?).

In its reply, AI had said that it received a total of 18 applications. Thirteen could not be approved under the scheme, three had been withdrawn by the applicants, and one had expired, leaving Neelam the only beneficiary. 

After MiD DAY's report on the irregularities, the Air India management had written back to Khanna threatening to scrap his retirement benefits ('Expose AI, lose retirement benefit', October 28, 2010). Air India failed to reply despite our queries being sent in advance. 

The case
After Khanna's complaint in 2009 about alleged inconsistencies in the scheme, the vigilance department of
Air India probed the allotments and admitted that the scheme benefited even those who were not eligible for it. The vigilance commission also maintained that Air India incurred irregular expenditure of Rs 50 lakh because of this. 

Behind time
Thanks to the ill-preparedness of the airlines, passengers continue to remain a worried lot at Mumbai airport. As per the On-Time Performance Report (OTP) data of February submitted to the aviation ministry, out of a total 6,950 departures 1,999 flights got delayed by more than 15 minutes. Reasons like crew shortage, late catering and lack of spare parts still remain the major contributors to the delays. As per the February data (copy With MiD DAY) more than 500 flights got delayed due to crew shortage -- some of the reasons given are 'crew did not report on time', 'no standby crew' or 'awaiting crew from flight which has not yet landed'. More than 250 flights were delayed due to 'lack of planned standby aircraft', 'lack of staff to repair breakdown', 'late release of aircraft from the scheduled maintenance' etc. Another 60 flights were behind time due to 'incorrect catering orders' and 'sales booking error'. In terms of numbers, Kingfisher is on top with 428 delays against 903 flight departures. MiD DAY had highlighted on March 3 (1 out of 3 flights from Mumbai delayed) the large number of delays by domestic airlines.

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