New Delhi: Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh on Thursday confirmed that some passengers were indeed deboarded from an Air India Leh-Delhi flight on June 24 to accommodate Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju.
Singh, however, defended the minister, saying the latter has Z-plus security and in order to accommodate him the passengers were deboarded.
“Air India did it and said it is under rule,” ANI quoted the J&K Deputy CM as saying.
According to him, passengers were not forced to deboard the plane.
“A request was made that it was an urgent duty he (Rijiju) had to go for; passengers agreed,” said Singh, as per ANI.
The remarks came after a huge controversy erupted on Wednesday following revelations that Rijiju had delayed an Air India flight from Leh to Delhi for about an hour on June 24. Also, three of the flight's passengers, including a child, were offloaded from the plane allegedly to accommodate the minister and his aide.
As per reports, the aircraft's doors were shut for take-off on June 24 but the flight did not depart at its scheduled time as Rijiju, along with his PA, had to be on board.
When the minister arrived, three passengers were allegedly deboarded to accommodate the minister and his PA, reports quoted sources as saying.
Rijuju yesterday claimed that it was not a "delay" as the departure of the flight had been "preponed" due to technical reasons.
"The departure was at 1140 hrs... I don't know... Somehow there was a rescheduling issue... It was not a delay.. It was a communication gap," Rijiju said.
The minister further said he was not aware of any passenger being made to deboard the flight to accommodate him.
"I am totally unaware whether anyone was asked to deboard. If it was done, it is completely wrong and unacceptable," he said.
Nirmal Singh also said today that the Air India flight had got preponed.
“Our flight got preponed. We (with Kiren Rijiju) rushed there. Pilot behaved rudely with us and instigated passengers,” Singh said, accusing the Air India pilot of misbehaving with them.
“I had a confirmed ticket, it isn't a bus that they shut the door. Enquiry is needed as to why they changed the time,” the J&K Deputy CM added.
Singh denied that the flight was delayed. “We reached Delhi 20 minutes before time! This is a misleading statement that the flight was delayed,” he stated.
“Mountain of a molehill is being made out of this issue. Wrong information is being put out,” Singh said further.
Narrating the entire incident, Rijiju said yesterday that he was returning to Delhi after taking part in the "Sindhu Darshan" festival on June 24 along with J&K Deputy CM Nirmal Singh in an Air India flight which was "suddenly rescheduled".
"I was supposed to return from Leh in a helicopter. But due to bad weather, the helicopter could not come from Srinagar to take me from Leh. Then the Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister asked me to accompany him in the Air India flight which was supposed to depart at 11.40 am.”
"But to our utter surprise, when we reached the Leh airport at 10.20 am, we found that the door of the aircraft was closed and it was about to take off. Then the Deputy Chief Minister lodged a strong protest with the Civil Aviation Minister for the unannounced rescheduling of the aircraft," Rijiju said.
The MoS Home said that after sometime, he and Singh were allowed to board the plane "and we could fly".
PMO seeks report
The Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, has sought a detailed report on the matter from the Civil Aviation Ministry, reports Zee Media's Ravindra Kumar.
The ministry also has sought a report from Air India on alleged delay of flights carrying ministers, as per Civil Aviation Secretary RN Choubey.
Just days ago, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was also accused of delaying a US-bound Air India flight for about an hour at Mumbai airport after his principal secretary could not produce a valid visa.
Separately, the Indian Air Force denied that it was an IAF officer who was deboarded from the said flight.
“According to inputs from Air India, it's an IFS officer and not IAF personnel who was involved; also, passenger wasn't deboarded but wasn't allowed to board,” the Air Force said, as per ANI.
“As per informal reports, eight passengers weren't allowed to board the flight. Air India stands by the figure of only 3,” the IAF added.
(With PTI inputs)