Enquiry into flight delay before CM's US trip says, it's all Air India's fault
Gist of report prepared by Jt CP Deven Bharti based on CCTV footage, statements of those involved: Yes, the bureaucrat was to blame, but decision to hold the flight was solely the crew's
Air India deliberately misguided citizens when it blamed Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his principal secretary Praveen Pardeshi for delaying a US-bound flight earlier this year, the official enquiry has said.
CM vindicated? Even when the controversy over the flight delay had erupted, Devendra Fadnavis had stood by his top aide Praveen Pardeshi
Asked to conduct a probe by the CM, Joint Commissioner of Police (law and order) Deven Bharti submitted his report to the government, in which he states that the airline's staffers had committed a blunder that had caused the delay and they were simply trying to cover up the mistake by blaming the CM.
The incident took place on June 29, when Fadnavis and his entourage were to fly to the US on the Air India flight AI191 (Mumbai-Newark). Sources had said that the flight was delayed and fliers were cooped inside the aircraft for nearly an hour as the CM's Principal Secretary Praveen Pardeshi had forgotten to get valid travel documents. This news was met with sharp criticism of what citizens perceived as yet another example of VIP culture. However, the CM had vehemently denied the allegations.
The CM had vehemently denied that he had anything to do with the delay of the Mumbai-Newark flight on June 29.
More buzz was created when an internal Air India document was leaked to the press in which the airline's duty manager Santos Fernandez stated that the flight had been delayed because the CM had demanded that either he fly with his entire entourage or be offloaded with them. Air-India's duty manager had blamed the delay on the CM, and Pardeshi, who had not carried a valid visa to the airport. Pardeshi's visa was brought to the airport from his home, and the flight took off 57 minutes after the scheduled departure time.
Jt CP Deven Bharti had been asked to probe the matter by the chief minister. File pics
However, Bharti's inquiry report states that the airline staffers realised that Pardeshi was not carrying a valid visa only 15 minutes before the scheduled take-off. The Joint CP questioned why Pardeshi was cleared for boarding by Immigration and Air India officials without valid travelling documents. The senior cop also recorded statements of staffers and verified CCTV footage, based on which he gave a minute-to-minute development of the episode (see 'Timeline').
Countering the duty manager's observation, Bharti's report states that Air India should have offloaded the entire team if the CM had told them so. Instead, the airline offloaded Pardeshi's baggage at 1.47 am, but a minute later, the bureaucrat's visa had arrived at the airport, and his luggage was loaded back on the aircraft.
Bharti further says that the airline manager's report was an attempt to mask the staffers' blunders. The report, a confidential document, was leaked to media with an intention of creating a controversy, states Bharti, adding that the airline staffers were indecisive about what to do till 1.35 am, further delaying the flight. No evidence, in person or on paper, was provided to establish that the CM — who by then had boarded the flight -- was informed about the ground situation, the report says.
When Fadnavis was accused of causing the delay, he had issued clarifications and threatened legal action against the airline's staffer for defaming him. A couple of co-passengers had come out in his support on Twitter and said that the CM was not aware of the developments taking place outside the aircraft.
Neither Fadnavis nor Pardeshi was available for comment, but a senior government official said the state government has accepted the report and forwarded it to the Centre for further action.
1.15 am: Air India staffers realise that Pardeshi doesn't have a valid visa on him
1.30 am: AI191 Mumbai-Newark Flight misses scheduled departure time
1.35 am: Airline staffers continue to mull over the matter
1.47 am: Pardeshi’s baggage offloaded
1.48 am: Pardeshi’s valid visa papers arrive and thereafter his baggage is loaded yet again
2.27 am: Flight takes off