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Two ministers caught in flight row, govt apologises


New Delhi: A major controversy erupted today after reports that three members of a family were offloaded from a Leh-Delhi flight to accommodate Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh and an aide, forcing the government to apologise today.

As the media highlighted the incident that came to light days after a similar case involving Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, the Prime Minister’s Office sought a report from the Civil Aviation Ministry.

While Rijiju apologised for the inconvenience caused the passengers, Nirmal Singh remained unapologetic and instead targeted the pilot and other AI staff members, alleging misbehaviour.

The incident occurred on June 24 when Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs, his assistant and Nirmal Singh were to travel from Leh to Delhi. To accommodate them, three members of the family of an IFS officer, including a child, were disallowed from boarding the flight AI-446, according to reports. This also delayed the flight.

The revelation came days after a similar report which said that an Air India flight to Newark from Mumbai was delayed by nearly an hour on June 29 as an aide of Fadnavis did not have valid US visa.

“As Civil Aviation Minister, I apologise to all those affected (by these incidents),” Ashok Gajapathi Raju told a press conference here this evening, in an attempt to end the controversy.

He said if any rules had been violated, “we will ask why it happened and that it should not happen”.

Rijiju also tendered an apology even as he insisted that he was not aware of some others not being allowed to board.

“Air India, being a government PSU, we as ministers, have the moral responsibility if any passenger has undergone any inconvenience. We must say sorry to them on behalf of the government and ensure that such incidents do not occur in future,” he told PTI over phone from Darjeeling.

Nirmal Singh, however, was unapologetic, saying he had “not misused” his status and in turn accused the pilot of misbehaving with him. He termed the allegations against him as “media trial” and said the question about deboarding should be asked to the airlines.

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