New Delhi, July 11: The dismissed civil aviation regulator, E.K. Bharat Bhushan, was shown the door a day before he had planned to take action against Kingfisher Airlines.
The director-general of civil aviation (DGCA) had lined up an order, which included a threat to ground the Vijay Mallya-owned troubled airline, if it did not pay salaries and act on a recovery plan.
Bhushan was asked to quit only nine days after his term as DGCA was extended by the cabinet appointments committee.
Sources said Bhushan had been preparing to despatch the order today as Kingfisher, disregarding the schedule filed with the regulator in February, was operating with fewer flights.
Worried about the safety of passengers and continuous failure to pay the dues of employees and other agencies, Bhushan had written a lengthy report to the civil aviation ministry two days ago, the sources said.
“In the report, he said that Kingfisher did not have adequate number of aircraft, was finding it difficult to acquire aviation turbine fuel and had not paid salary dues for six months. Other than not keeping the promise of running the airline according to the schedule submitted to the DGCA, the airline was a danger to its passengers as pilots were flying under immense stress,” a DGCA source said.
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh reacted to allegations of sheltering an airline by removing a bureaucrat by calling it a routine step as Bhushan was holding additional charge.
“There is no question of compromising on safety issues for any airline,” he said, reiterating his stand that Kingfisher would lose its licence if it failed to maintain the schedule it had submitted.
The airline issued a statement today saying it had nothing to do with Bhushan’s exit. “Transfer of its officials is the sole prerogative of the government. It is highly incorrect to suggest that the transfer of DGCA Bhushan was in any way connected to Kingfisher Airlines,” it said.
Bhushan’s extension till December 2012 was cleared by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “The extension was done with the approval of all ministers concerned,” said a ministry official.
Ajit is expected to discuss the removal with Manmohan Singh tomorrow. The ministry has written a letter to the Prime Minister explaining why the step was taken. The secretary has also informed the cabinet appointments committee.
Former civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi said Bhushan’s dismissal came as a surprise. “Bharat Bhushan is one of the finest officers. He believes in norms. When I was in charge of civil aviation, he took all efforts to check corrupt practices, agents. He never spared Air India.”
Some believe Bhushan might be paying the price for saying no, not once but time and again to everyone, starting from the civil aviation ministry and the Air India management to business houses running private airlines.
This is not the first time the 1979 batch Kerala-cadre IAS officer is at loggerheads with the ministry and other agencies. “When the Air India impasse was on, he refused to revoke licences of the 10 Indian Pilots’ Guild office-bearers who the Air India management wanted removed. He told them that he as a safety regulator could not take action against them on a labour issue,” said a civil aviation official.
In January, he had turned down Kingfisher’s plea to act against pilots who had quit abruptly, saying the airline had not paid them for months.