The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Freedom flight for poll four

New Delhi, Aug. 14: If the government’s choice of site for an Independence Day pilgrimage is praiseworthy, then its choice of beneficiary states is noteworthy.

Rajiv Pratap Rudi, the new civil aviation minister, will tomorrow escort 100-odd physically challenged children and freedom fighters on Airbus 320 to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar.

They are from Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar — the first four will go to the polls later this year and the fifth is the minister’s home.

Rudi was quick with his reply when asked about the choice.

“Another flight could be arranged for states left out this time, on January 26,” he said.

Another flight is, of course, taking off tomorrow itself, with freedom fighters and disabled children handpicked from the four southern states and Maharashtra.

The Boeing 737 team flying from Chennai to Cellular Jail in Port Blair will be chaperoned by S. Thirunavukkarsar, another BJP minister — minister of state for telecom — and one of the party’s two Tamil representatives at the Centre.

The Independence Day excursions are being arranged and paid for by the state carrier, Indian Airlines, as part of celebrations to mark its golden jubilee this year.

Rudi announced his August 15 pilgrimage before the press here today and said he would give away lifetime gold passes to all Bharat Ratnas. They could use the pass to fly to any number of domestic or international destinations for free on Indian Airlines and Air-India, he said.

The flight sop follows the railway sop — also a gold pass — for Bharat Ratna Bismillah Khan, who had recently complained of his inability to fend for himself because of poverty.

Officials at Indian Airlines, which will likely run up a loss of Rs 300 crore this year, will not be happy as at least Rs 60 crore of the loss will be attributable to the various sops it doles out, including concession tickets to students and senior students.

Both Indian Airlines and Air-India — which made a small profit last year for the first time in five years — are likely to suffer losses in the future as well because they will have to buy a fresh fleet to replace the ageing one.

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