New Delhi: This is like a Sidney Sheldon potboiler. Accusations of wrongdoing and favouritism by officials in the civil aviation ministry in unceremoniously removing Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) EK Bharat Bhushan are falling a bit flat in the light of more information.
His removal on Tuesday sparked rumours in the media that it may be linked to the action he was proposing to take against Kingfisher Airlines.
Top ministry sources told Firstpost this afternoon that Bhushan actually lobbied for an extension of his term with the Cabinet Secretariat despite Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh's recommendation, pending for the last two months, that there should be a full-time DGCA. The Cabinet Secretariat and the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC) appear to have shown a lot of procedural laxity in allowing the situation to reach a flashpoint before Bhushan was removed. The ACC comprises the PM, the Home Minister and the minister concerned - in this case Ajit Singh.
"Bhushan's removal has nothing to do with any action he was planning to take on either Kingfisher Airlines or Air India. If he was planning to act against them, where are his reports on either airline? He was removed because we have already zeroed in on a new DGCA and his appointment is pending approval of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. No wrongdoing has happened in this matter," these sources asserted.
They said even if Bhushan had prepared a preliminary report on either airline, these will not be junked and the new DGCA will certainly look into the matter. These sources emphasised that no DGCA report on Kingfisher's financial situation or safety issues had been submitted to the ministry in the last four to five weeks.
The Bhushan saga began on 1 December 2011 when the then Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi wrote to the ACC for a six-month extension for Bhushan. By 18 December, regime change had brought in current incumbent Ajit Singh as minister. Sources said protocol and past precedent demanded that the file containing Ravi's recommendation for extension of Bhushan's tenure be returned to Singh for approval.
"But this was never done. And no official confirmation of an extension was received either. Anyhow, the extended term got over on 31 May by when the minister had already recommended that Arun Misra be appointed as the next DGCA," the sources said.
They alleged that while the ACC sat on this decision, Bhushan quietly worked the Malayali lobby in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and got himself another six-month extension without taking the minister into confidence.
"This mess has happened because of lapses in the Cabinet Secretariat, not because we wanted to remove Bhushan unceremoniously. Our recommendation has been with the ACC for the last two months. You should ask them why no action was taken," said the sources.
So what now? Ajit Singh has already written to the Prime Minister explaining the situation and asking him to expedite the appointment of Arun Misra. Also, Aviation Secretary SN Zaidi has also written to the Cabinet Secretary on much the same lines. In the interim, a joint secretary in the ministry, Prashan N Sukul, has taken charge of the aviation regulator.
But the high drama over Bhushan since Tuesday certainly doesn't explain the lack of any concrete action, at least on the Kingfisher Airlines' front, where more pilots are planning to stop work for non-payment of salaries and this means the airline's published schedule will not be followed. What do the ministry and the interim DGCA Sukul plan to do about this?
The DGCA’s office is in-charge of regulatory issues pertaining to aviation safety, efficiency, and continuity of air transport, including the formulation of the air law framework.