The government owes indebted airline Air India Rs 325.81 crore in unpaid bills for charter flights to foreign countries for VVIPs, a response to a Right to Information query has revealed, according to PTI.

In its reply dated March 8, the national carrier said that as of January 31, Rs 84.01 crore in pending bills was carried forward from 2016-’17, and the remaining Rs 241.8 crore debt was generated in the current financial year.

The airline modifies its commercial aircraft into charter jets for overseas trips by the president, vice president and the prime minister. The defence and foreign ministries, the Prime Minister’s Office and the cabinet secretariat are supposed to pay the bills.

Air India’s response to the query by RTI activist and retired naval officer Commodore Lokesh Batra said the Foreign Ministry owed the airline Rs 178.55 crore, the cabinet secretariat and the PMO Rs 128.84 crore and the Defence Ministry Rs 18.42 crore.

In a separate RTI reply dated March 5, the Civil Aviation Ministry said the government owed Air India Rs 345.946 crore till December 31. The amount includes pending bills worth Rs 20.966 crore towards evacuations of Indians from Cairo, Iraq and Malta and flight services for visiting dignitaries, PTI reported.

Airline consortium to bid for Air India

A consortium of three airlines – Jet Airways, Delta Airlines and Air France-KLM – have expressed interest in bidding for Air India, PTI reported, quoting unidentified officials. In its process to divest shares in the loss-making carrier, the government is expected to soon invite offers.

On Thursday, the Centre said it hopes to complete divesting its stake in Air India by the end of the year. The company will be sold as four different entities – the national carrier, its low-cost arm Air India Express and subsidiary AISATS, which handles ground operations, will be one entity, and its regional arm Alliance Air will be another. Air India Air Transport Services Ltd and Air India Engineering Services Ltd will be sold separately.

In 2017, the Cabinet had approved a proposal to privatise the national carrier. A committee chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been set up to chalk out a strategy to sell the government’s stake in Air India.