Gandhi, while on a tour of Punjab, said no question was asked by the media on why PM Modi had bought planes for Rs 8,000 crore which had “50 beds” and accused Modi of buying them because “his friend Donald Trump has them and he also wanted it.”
Government sources said the process for procuring these planes had began around a decade ago in 2011 under the UPA Government while the Modi government has simply brought this process to a logical conclusion.
“These aircraft are not the ‘PM’s aircraft’ but will be used for other VVIPs as well. These aircraft belong to the Indian Air Force and not the PM,” the government sources said. They added that the present aircraft used for VVIP travel till now, the Air India jumbo jets, are over 25 years old. “Not only are they incapable of long, trans-Atlantic flights, forcing halt enroute for refueling and replenishment purposes. They are also fuel guzzlers of epic proportions,” sources said.
The government also put out a chronology of the process of acquisition, saying the process of acquisition of two new aircraft for the travel of VVIPs commenced in 2011 when upon direction of Group of Ministers (GOM), a meeting of Committee of Secretaries (CoS) was held wherein it was decided that an Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) would examine the available options for long term arrangement of VVIP aircraft.
“In the same year, an IMG coordinated by Cabinet Secretariat was set up to consider all the options, including acquisition, management and utilization of aircraft for VVIP operations. The IMG met around ten times and submitted recommendations in 2012. Two options were recommended- convert an existing B777 ER, or using one of the new ones that were ordered by Air India but yet to be delivered,” sources said.
They said the Cabinet Secretariat had recommended transfer of the aircraft to the Indian Air Force in August, 2013.