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Plane Jones

Pvt jets are crucial quid pro quo in corporate-politico ties

Plane Jones
Plane Jones

The Cobrapost Investigation Reveals

  • Politicians use chartered flights even when commercial flights are available
  • They often resort to personal use
  • They are not making any payments for the flight
  • They are using them not just during election time
  • Even ministers in office do not mind flying in planes provided by industrial houses and corporate bodies
  • Political parties are not disclosing their star campaigners’ travel details to the EC fully


Ever heard of Simm Samm Airways? Or Prabhatam Aviation? The country seems to be teeming with such companies, almost all of them in the red, but still busy leasing out aircraft to politicians and businessmen. Neither the Directorate General of Civil Avi­ation (DGCA) nor the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is forthcoming about making details on the frequency of these flights, their destination or the passenger manifest.

But an investigation by portal Cobrapost based on RTI applications reveals politicians are merrily using chartered planes, flouting Election Commission rules and even flying in aircraft not registered with DGCA. They have been flying with family members, government officials and corporate barons, often making several trips in a day.

These charters are run by several corporate houses, many with mining, infrastructure, engineering or real estate int­erests. Politicians, whether in or out of power, hop on their aircrafts regularly, oblivious to any “conflict of interest”.

These facts are either withheld from the EC or relayed partially. A small party like the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha told the EC it paid ‘itself’ a sum of Rs 2.10 crore for renting helicopters and air taxis for president Babulal Mara­ndi’s travel in March 2014. All India Trinamool Cong­ress claims it spent Rs 2 crore on the chartered flights of its star campaigner and former railway minister Mukul Roy in the run-up to the general election. Roy had also used Northeast Shuttles for a Ranchi-Calcutta flight, a fact EC wasn’t told.

A bizarre claim by two companies, Krishnapatnam Port Co Ltd and Navayuga Engg Pvt Ltd, shows how the DGCA is either unequipped or disinclined to regulate such companies. Both say they lent their aircraft to Chandrababu Naidu for campaigning on April 21 and 22, 2014. Both had the same call sign—VT-NAV—which docu­ments show is not even registered with DGCA. How then did AAI allow them to fly?

Politicians themselves own several of these leasing compa­nies. Orbit Aviation, for example, is owned by Bikram Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and brother of Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Span Air is owned by Congress leader Kamal Nath’s family. And when it comes to sharing flights, political differences do not matter. On January 1, 2014, for example, Delhi Cong­ress president Arvinder Singh Lovely took a chartered flight from Jaipur to Delhi with BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal.

An eight-seater Hawker 900 XP aircraft costs Rs 2,25,000 per hour on hire. With a maximum cruise speed of 700 kmph, it would cover the 1,745 km Delhi-Bangalore distance in approximately 2.5 hours at a cost of Rs 5,60,000. Then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee used GMR Aviation’s nine-seater Falcon 200 E to fly from Thiruvananthapuram to Delhi, costing approximately Rs 14 lakh. However, Pranab had flown economy class in a commercial airline after Sonia Gandhi’s austerity directive in September 2009. “It’s nothing new to me,” he had said. But then Sonia herself flew in a chartered flight from Jaipur to Delhi in November 2013.

The growing nexus between industrial houses and politici­ans has never been a secret. Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh frequently used the planes of media group Dainik Bhaskar, which has interests in mining and power in the state. Biju Janata Dal MP Pinaki Misra, who had flown from Ranchi to Delhi, and former Union minister Salman Khursheed, who flew from Mumbai to Thiruvananthapuram and to Rajahmundry in chartered flights, told Cobrapost that clients or organisers who had invited them paid for their flights. “This is standard practice in the legal profession,” says Misra. “All advocates routinely use private/chartered flights clients pay for when no convenient commercial flight is available.” Khursheed responded to an e-mail saying, “Sometimes when people have a programme and there is no way to get a guest there in time, travel arrangements are made.”

 Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan may not be the only one to use state government planes for family vacations. He did so to fly to Man­galore and Lak­sh­a­dweep. Then Jharkhand CM Arjun Munda’s wife Meera took a chartered flight to cover the 120-odd km bet­ween Ranchi and Jamshedpur at the state government’s expense. Commercial flights connect Jaipur and Lucknow, four seats in the economy class for around Rs 24,000 (one way). But BSP leader Mayawati chose to take a chartered flight and paid Rs 3.5 lakh for four passengers. Who foots these bills?


Up In The Air: How Our Politicians Fly Club-Class

What applications filed under RTI reveal on the private aircraft used, the routes taken and the fellow-travellers

Rajnath Singh, BJP

Chartered from: ARC Aviation, Bharat Hotels, Ligare Aviation, SRC Aviation, GMR Aviation, AR Airways, Business Jets Pvt Ltd, Punj Lloyd Aviation

Routes: Jaipur-Hapur, Raipur-Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram-Delhi, Calcutta-Delhi, Dehradun-Delhi

Flown with: Sudhan Singh, Nirmal Jain, J.P. Nadda, Ramlal, Sudhanshu Trivedi, Venkaiah Naidu, Arjun Munda, Sushil Modi, K.P. Singh

Sonia Gandhi, Congress

Chartered from: Taj Air

Routes: Mangalore-Delhi, Jaipur-Delhi

Flown with: Gurudas Kamat & five others (2013)

Sharad Pawar, NCP

Chartered from: Karnavati Aviation, Zest Aviation

Routes: Ahmedabad-Hyderabad, Mumbai-Baroda-Mumbai

Flown with: Charan Das Mahant, wife Pratibha Pawar

Praful Patel, NCP

Chartered from: Karnavati Aviation (Adani), Air One Aviation, King Rotor & Air Pvt Ltd, Pinnacle Air Services, Indian Steel Works Pvt Ltd, GVK Aviation, GMR Group

Routes: Baroda-Gondiya, Gondiya-Jaipur, Baroda-Ahmedabad, Baroda-Mumbai

Flown with: Son Prajay, daughters Poorna & Niyati, wife Varsha, personal CA Namrata, Supriya Sule, Dinsha Patel, Chhagan Bhujbal, L&T director S.N. Roy

Sushma Swaraj, BJP

Chartered from: Bajaj Aviation, VSL Aviation (owned by Congress leader Anil Lad), SS Aviation (owned by Congress leader Shamnoor Shivshankarappa), ARC Aviation, Dainik Bhaskar Group

Routes: Tirupati-Thiruvananthapuram-Kanyakumari, Baroda-Delhi, Raipur-Bhopal-Delhi

Flown with: PA Suman Gupta, Uma Bharati, Ananth Kumar

Venkaiah Naidu, BJP

Chartered from: Turbo Aviation, SRC Aviation, GMR Group, Orbit Aviation

Routes: Tirupati-Hyderabad, Ranchi-Delhi, Tirupati-Madanpalli, Raipur-Sukma

Flown with: Not known

L.K. Advani, BJP

Chartered from: Punj Lloyd, Ligare Aviation, EPAL, Jupiter Aviation, AR Airways

Routes: Jaipur-Delhi, Jaipur-Indore, Raipur-Delhi, Mangalore-Delhi, Mangalore-Mumbai,

Flown with: PA Deepak Chopra, Daughter Pratibha, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal

Mayawati, BSP

Chartered from: EIH Ltd, Global Vectra, Saxsons Air Services, Orbit Aviation, Jaypee Group

Routes: Jaipur-Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram-Kozhikode, Jaipur-Jhunjhunu-Dhaulpur

Flown with: S.C. Mishra and others

Sachin Pilot, Congress

Chartered from: GMR Group, Ligare Aviation, Orbit Aviation, India Flysafe, Aerotech Aviation

Routes: Tirupati-Delhi, Jaipur-Delhi-Nagaur-Ghoongra (Rajasthan)

Flown with: Entire family from Tirupati, in other flights not known

Pranab Mukherjee, Congress

Chartered from: GMR Group (four times)

Routes: Thiruvananthapuram-Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram-Delhi, Delhi-Ranchi-Delhi

Flown with: V. Narayansami, Rajeev Shukla, Subodh Kant Sahai, Shakeel Ahmed

Vasundhararaje, BJP

Chartered from: Ghodawat Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Bharat Hotels Ltd, Pawan Hans

Routes: Jaipur-Churu, Jaipur-Ajmer, Jaipur-Barmer, Jaipur-Bundi-Karauli

Flown with: Not known

Nitin Gadkari, BJP

Chartered from: SAARC Aviation, Simm Samm Airways, EPAL (European Project & Aviation Ltd), Punj Lloyd,  Ligare Aviation

Routes: Mangalore-Mumbai, Surat-Ahmedabad, Raipur-Lucknow, Jaipur-Nagpur, Baroda-Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram-Delhi

Flown with: Industrialist Rajesh Shah, Spokesperson Ashok Tandon, Balbir Punj, C. Uday Bhaskar

Raman Singh, BJP

Chartered from: Dainik Bhaskar Group  

Routes: Raipur-Chandigarh, Raipur-Tirupati-Goa, Raipur-Hyderabad, Raipur-Jagdalpur, Raipur-Indore on at least eight occasions

Flown with: Wife Veena, son Abhishek, daughter-in-law Aishwarya and others

Parkash Singh Badal, SAD

Chartered from: Jindal Steel & Power, Span Air, Global Vectra Ltd, AR Airways

Routes: Amritsar-Delhi, Ahmedabad-Bhatinda, Jaipur-Delhi

Flown with: Sukhbir & Harsimrat Kaur Badal, chief secretary S.K. Sandhu, MPs B.S. Bhundar and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa

Akhilesh Yadav, SP

Chartered from: Punj Lloyd Aviation

Routes: Jaipur-Agra

Flown with: Secretary Pandhari Yadav and five others

Vijay Bahuguna, Congress

Chartered from: UT Air India Pvt Ltd, Air Charter Services, Escorts Ltd, Span Air, Ligare Aviation, Prabhatam Aviation

Routes: Delhi-Dehradun, Dehradun-Sahasradhara

Flown with: Son Saket, daughter-in-law Gauri, wife Sudha, Rajeev Shukla

Chandrababu Naidu, TDP

Chartered from: Turbo Aviation Pvt Ltd, Krishnapatnam Port Co, Aryan Aviation, Navayuga Engineering Pvt Ltd, GMR Aviation

Routes: Tirupati-Hyderabad-Chandragiri-SR Puram-Aragonda, Tirupati-Sriharikota,

Flown with: Not Known

Smriti Irani, BJP

Chartered from: Freedom Charter Services, Himalayan Heli Services

Routes: Ahmedabad-Mumbai, Raipur-Raigarh

Flown with: Stock traders Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Radha Krishna Damani and ASK Group chairman Asit Kotecha

Shivraj Singh Chouhan, BJP

Chartered from: Ligare Aviation, Business Jet India, SRC Aviation, Jaypee Group, Orbit Aviation

Routes: Jaipur-Bhopal-Bangalore-Delhi five times

Flown with: Wife Sadhna, sons Kartik & Kunal and others

Arjun Munda, BJP

Chartered from: Summit Aviation, Dove Airlines, Aryan Aviation, Span Air, Tata Steel

Routes: Ranchi-Chaibasa, Ranchi-Chandigarh, Ranchi-Jamshedpur, Ranchi-Mumbai, Ranchi-Surat and Ranchi-Baroda

Flown with: Raghubar Das, Dineshanand Goswami, Hemant Soren, wife Meera and others

Bhupinder S. Hooda, Congress

Chartered from: India Flysafe, Air Charter Services, Aircar Airlines Pvt Ltd, Ligare Aviation

Routes: Dehradun-Delhi, Jaipur-Delhi, Jaipur-Bikaner

Flown with: Motilal Vora, Ambika Soni and others

Harish Rawat, Congress

Chartered from: UT Air India Pvt Ltd,  Air Charter Services Pvt Ltd, Bharat Hotel, Ligare Aviation

Routes: Dehradun-Sahasra­dhara, Dehradun-Delhi on six occasions in Mar 2014 alone

Flown with: Not known

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