Even as Air India continues to sell property to raise money, the government of India owes the struggling airline Rs 598.55 crore as of March 31, according to information released by Air India in response to a Right to Information application. Almost half of these dues are from the Prime Minister’s Office, which has yet to pay the struggling airline Rs 297.08 crore, mostly for aircraft maintenance.

“Payments of 2008 onward are still pending,” said retired Commodore Lokesh Batra who received the reply via email on May 17, 2019. Batra had filed the application on May 3 and received a reply in under two weeks. “The media often reports that employees’ salaries get delayed, but why? At the end of the day, it is tax payers who pay for lapses of governance.”

Batra noted that the Comptroller and Auditor General had in 2016 flagged delays in payments from the government of India as a factor affecting the airline’s finances. According to the report, outstanding dues from the government were Rs 513.27 crore as on March 31, 2017.

How do the dues stack up?

Air India divided the information by individuals who either took the flights or on whose behalf aircraft were maintained. Scroll.in has a copy of this information.

The cabinet secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office handles the prime minister’s flights. It owes Air India Rs 297.081 crore, which is 37% of the total invoiced amount submitted to it. All overdue bills date from 2018 and 2019. The largest overdue bill is dated July 2018 for Rs 203.546 crore.

The Ministry of Defence, which manages the president’s flights, owes Air India Rs 212.19 crore, which is almost 70% of what has been billed to this ministry. The oldest bill, and only one from an older government, is from 2009, of Rs 4.445 crore. The bulk of the overdue amount is from three bills dated July 2018 again. These amount to Rs 160.763 for maintenance of a Boeing 747-400.

A third category is for the Ministry of External Affairs for the vice president’s flights. The ministry has cleared nearly 82% of its dues and owes Air India only Rs 66.946 crore. The oldest bills in this section are from 2008 and 2009.

The airline also shared details of bills for evacuations and flights for foreign dignitaries.

Larger problems

In perspective, the government’s debts represent only a small fraction of the airline’s liabilities. In March 2018, the government invited bids for 76% of its stake in Air India. There were no takers. The airline’s losses as of March 2018 was Rs 53,383 crore, News18 reported a year later. The daily net loss is almost Rs 16 crore.

Air India has had relatively limited success in monetising its properties, which includes apartments and land parcels in different cities across the country. In September, it put 41 properties up for sale. As of October 24, it sold only 17 of those, raising Rs 15 crore instead of the expected Rs 400 crore, CNBC TV18 reported. In March 2018, it had managed to find buyers only for half of the 45 properties it had put for sale a month earlier, Mint reported. The United Progressive Alliance had approved the airline’s plan to monetise its land assets in 2012. Air India was to raise Rs 5,000 crore between April 2014 and March 2021, with sales of Rs 500 crore each year, PTI reported in November. It has been struggling to meet this target.