The curious case of the Flying Bill

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Former PM Deve Gowda refuses to pay the Indian Air Force for his use of its aircraft
Even by the stingy standards of politicians, former PM Deve Gowda’s outstanding dues to the Indian Air Force (IAF) are in a league of their own. It was back in 1996– 97, as PM, that Gowda used IAF planes for unofficial purposes. He was billed for it, but he ignored it. The story took a strange turn when he finally relented—he found that another bill, that of former Union Civil Aviation Minister CM Ibrahim, had been added to his.

According to the IAF, Gowda owes it Rs 54 lakh plus interest for a period of 17 years. In 2009, Gowda wrote to the IAF to collect the dues from the JD-U headed by Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav because that party had inherited all the assets and liabilities of the undivided Janata Dal. The matter had been in court and when he finally agreed to pay up, he found Ibrahim’s bill for Rs 28.3 lakh appended to his.

Ibrahim is a Karnataka Congressman who had joined Gowda’s party and held the Civil Aviation portfolio. He later rejoined the Congress. Now, Gowda has approached the Delhi High Court stating he is willing to pay only his dues if the IAF opts for mediation.

Gowda refused to answer when asked by reporters in Bangalore recently if he was willing to pay the interest as well—the IAF has claimed nearly Rs 2 crore in interest charges. Air Force officers do not want to speak on the record, but say it is up to the Government to collect the dues from political parties and VIPs who used its aircraft for non-official purposes. They argue that since both politicians had belonged to the same political party then, the total bill was justly sent to Gowda.

Apart from Gowda, former PM Chandra Shekhar also owes the IAF Rs 5.91 crore, and former Union Minister VC Shukla, Rs 4.60 lakh. Both of them have passed away.

The court has refused to send the case for mediation until the claims raised against Ibrahim are addressed by the Government. It has sent a notice to Ibrahim too.