Nearly three months after the conclusion of Operation Ganga for evacuation of Indians from Ukraine, the government is yet to clear the bills sent by the country’s six major airlines, which deployed 76 flights for the exercise between February and March.
Officials aware of the pending payments said that the process for clearing the disbursal is still under way. Given the large amounts under consideration, an official said the matter would be resolved in a matter of time, indicating that only a few months had elapsed since the completion of Operation Ganga.
The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on the matter.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation, which brought various airlines onboard despite their initial reluctance to participate in the exercise, received the bills and vetted them before sending them to the MEA for clearance.
The bills submitted were “technically examined” to ensure there was no overcharging. Various parameters, such as fuel cost, lay over, crew deployment, wide- and narrow-bodied aeroplane, and seat configuration, were analysed, a senior official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation said.
“While most bills were within 10% range of each other, there were one or two airlines where there were slight variations and this was then taken up with them,” the official said.
Though Indians had started returning in large numbers weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, flights chartered by the Indian government and operated by domestic airlines started after the war broke out. The operation continued till March 11.
Later, the airlines were “sensitised” on how they should proceed with billing. Some airlines said that they have received payments from State governments, which had chartered their aircraft to fly students from cities like Mumbai and Delhi after their return from Ukraine.
This was the first air evacuation undertaken by the Indian government after the privatisation of Air India, which was routinely pressed into such activities. Air India was formally handed over to Tata Sons on January 27. But there is no discussion yet on whether there is a need to develop a systematic procedure for hiring airlines for future evacuations, officials in the Ministry of Civil Aviation say.
A senior GoAir executive felt that “standardisation” of such procedures may be detrimental to some airlines and could lead to “allegations” as aircraft type and the number of seats available differ from one airline to another. He felt that factors such as “cost of pilots”, which can increase over a period of time, could make such an exercise challenging.
Though IndiGo, which has deep pockets, says that their operations are “not bound by revenue from ticket sales”, this is not true for airlines like SpiceJet with weak financials, whose flights were stopped by Delhi’s Air Traffic Controller for several hours last month over non-payment of dues to the Airports Authority of India.