Prashant Bhushan seeks CBI probe in Air India biometric passenger ID scam

The AAP leader asked for a detailed CBI probe into Air India's proposal in 2006 to install biometric passenger identification systems at select domestic and international airports

Following the recent judgement from Canada's Superior Court convicting an official from Cryptometrics, a Canadian company, for bribery. The Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader Prashant Bhushan has filed a complaint to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for initiating a detailed probe in Air India's proposal to install biometric passenger identification system.

 

In his complaint to the CBI, the lawyer said, "I am writing to you regarding an open and shut case of high-level corruption involving former Union Minister of Civil Aviation Praful Patel, former Chairperson of Air India V Thulasidas and others. I understand this case might have been the subject matter of some CBI investigation in the past, but nothing much has come out of that and apparently no FIR/RC has been registered. However, now with new facts are coming to light, in the form of judgments of Canadian Superior Court and a book written by Former Executive Director of Air India, there is no room for doubt that the matter is crying for a thorough investigation and swift prosecution."

 

Bhushan alleged that the case involves a huge scam, whereby in 2006 a proposal was mooted in Air India for installing a biometric passenger identification system at select domestic and international airports.

 

Here are the allegations made by the AAP leader:

1) Executives from a company called Cryptometrics had visited Mumbai to explore a biometric identification project when not even a single document regarding any such tender had been created in Air India. Only in 2006, a proposal was mooted within Air India for installing a biometric system for passenger identification.

 

2) The cost estimate of the Security Department was about Rs75 lakh, but the tender committee on the basis of bids received pegged the cost at a whopping Rs500 crore.

 

3) About 20 bids were received in response to the tender MMD/42018, but 18 of those were later disqualified.

 

4) Only two Canadian companies were shortlisted: Ipcon and Cryptometrics. It was clear from several facts that Ipcon’s bid was bogus and non-serious.

 

5) Cryptometrics stated that there should be no termination clause. This demand ought to have meant that it should be disqualified since similar demand by another company (Electronic Corporation of India Ltd, a public sector undertaking) had led to its rejection. However, this demand was accepted.

 

6) Cryptometrics was on the verge of being awarded the contract at a cost of Rs500 crore (at then exchange rate). Though the tender committee had almost recommended placement of contract with all three committee members having already signed the document, the project was fortunately dropped. This was due to the objections raised by an upright officer in the finance department. The huge cost also could not be justified, owing to the fact that Air India was already suffering from huge losses due to the actions of Mr Praful Patel himself in the form of unnecessary purchase of 68 aircrafts in 2005 (which also need a thorough investigation).

 

7) Eight years after the tender was floated, Air India still does not feel the need for any biometric identification of passengers, demonstrating that huge money was sought to be spent on an unnecessary purchase.

 

8) All the above facts are clear from the remarkable book written by Shri Jitender Bhargava, former Executive Director of Air India. A few relevant pages of his book ‘The Descent of Air India’ are enclosed.

 

9) On 15 August 2013, the Ontario (Canada) Superior Court of Justice convicted one official Mr Nazir Karigar of Cryptometrics for having offered to bribe (with other company officials) Mr Praful Patel, Mr V Thulasidas and other Indian public servants. The judgement records meetings between company officials and Mr Patel and how the money was to be paid to Mr Patel.

 

10) Recently, on 23 May 2014, the Ontario Superior Court has sentenced Mr Nazir Karigar to three years in prison for having offered to bribe Mr Praful Patel and other Air India officials. Despite this, no action has been taken against any Indian public official by the authorities in India.

 

Bhushan said this is a good example of how costly projects were conceived by Civil Aviation Minister and Air India Chairperson with the sole intention of siphoning off money. He said, "Bhargava’s book lists further such examples: Purchase and leasing of aircrafts, refurbishment and conversion of aircrafts. All these projects were being designed in order to serve the corrupt designs of the Ministry and Air India Management."

 

"In view of these glaring facts, I implore you to immediately register an RC/FIR and get this matter thoroughly investigated so that all those guilty can be swiftly prosecuted," the AAP leader added.

 

Bhushan also said that if an FIR is not registered in the case he would then approach Supreme Court in the next two weeks.

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