With two of his ministers already facing flak, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis landed himself in a controversy when he delayed an Air India flight to the US by around an hour, according to reports.
The flight, which was carrying around 250 passengers, was delayed because Fadnavis’ principal secretary got his old passport to the airport, according to CNN-IBN.
CM Fadnavis, however, denied the allegations against him. “The allegation that I forced delay of the flight to Newark is false and misleading,” he said.
Air India said in a statement, ”The flight, AI 191 of 29th June, 2015 was delayed by a total of 57 minutes. The delay was partly due to technical/operational reasons, and also the ATC.”
An Air India spokesperson also said that the flight AI-191 in which Fadnavis was to travel was delayed by 57 minutes for a mix of reasons.
“The flight was delayed by 57 minutes and that too because of operational, technical reasons. Besides, some delay also occurred on account of the ATC,” the spokesperson claimed in response to questions.
The incident took place on Tuesday when Fadnavis was leaving on a week-long visit to the US along with his industries Minister Subhash Desai, Chief Secratary Swadheen Kshatriya and Principal Secretary Pravin Pardeshi besides other delegation members.
According to sources, Pardeshi was cleared at the check-in but was held back before boarding as the passport he was carrying did not have the valid US visa.
Sources said that Pardeshi had got a valid US visa in his old passport but this was not reflected in the new one which he was carrying. He quickly arranged to bring his old passport which had valid US visa stamp after which he was allowed to proceed to the aircraft, they said.
Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan demanded an inquiry into the delay of the flight to US.
Chavan also trained his guns on authorities, saying, “Air India officials have flouted rules under pressure.”
“The PM must take action. I don’t know if he will act against Fadnavis,” Chavan said. “The PM or civil aviation minister must order an inquiry into the whole affair. The reputation of the country is at stake,” he added.
MPCC president Ashok Chavan said, “The issue is very serious. Over one and a half hours were wasted just because an officer forgot to bring his passport. There should be an in depth inquiry and action should be taken against the guilty.”
Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil reacted to this news and said, “If the flight was held up for a particular person, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t a very good thing on the part of the honourable CM. If this has happened, it is unfortunate.”
Fadnavis on Monday had left for a week-long official trip to US where a series of meetings with trade, commerce and industry houses are lined up, reported PTI.
According to an official from the Chief Minister’s Office, a delegation led by Fadnavis includes Industries Minister Subhash Desai, Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshtriya, Principal Secretary in Chief Minister’s office Pravin Pardeshi among others.
This is not the first time Fadnavis has sparked a row with respect to special treatment given to VVIPs.
In March, traffic policemen at the NSCI Club in central Mumbai’s Worli had stopped private vehicles to make way for the Chief Minister’s convoy and video footage had showed them grappling with some of the club members, including an elderly person.
The issue had triggered an outrage over people being inconvenienced during movement of VVIPs and Opposition parties had attacked Fadnavis on the issue.
Fadnavis, who enjoys Z plus security, had apologised for the melee.
“My sincere apologies to those who were stopped by the police unnecessarily. People in the state have always seen me stopping at traffic signals. I don’t believe in VIP culture,” he had tweeted.
(With inputs from PTI)