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CBI PROBES HAJJ OPERATIONS

Union minister for civil aviation Sharad Yadav has ordered a CBI inquiry into the tender awarded by the Central Hajj Committee (CHC) and Midos, a private air charter company which ferried Indian Hajj pilgrims to Jeddah and back. The inquiry will probe as to how the contract went to Midos and the acts of commission and omission committed, in order to fix responsibility for mishandling the Hajj operations.

Sources say that Sharad Yadav formally asked the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to probe the entire Hajj tender process. He complained that he feared that norms had been violated. The CVC Commissioner, N. Vittal, immediately forwarded the complaint to the CBI ordering an inquiry. 

Minister of state for aviation, Chaman Lal Gupta, while disclosing this, said that we have received some serious complaints about the award of the contract and therefore we are having it investigated.

According to our information, what is now being described as the ‘Hajj Scam,’ first exposed by The Milli Gazette, has also figured in union cabinet meetings with several ministers exerting pressure on Yadav to have the matter probed since they have received complaints.

According to sources the CBI will look into how Air India awarded the Hajj tender to Midos after five other companies were disqualified on ‘technical grounds.’ Initially the contract was awarded to the company without any tender but when Chaman Lal Gupta raised the issue Sharad Yadav asked AI to go through the tender process. This exercise was done, tenders of the five other companies rejected and Midos was assigned the contract once again.

On the other hand, ministry officials contend that the original contract signed with Midos had an optional second year renewal clause. Since there were no complaints with the earlier Hajj operations, the contract was allotted to Midos again.

The CBI has to go into the depth of this and other complaints about the fashion the contract was drawn up which permitted Midos to operate 20- year-old aircraft for the Hajj flights.

The CHC, in a series of complaints to the government, has pointed out the problems faced by the pilgrims this year because of ‘bad planning’ by AI.

Taking note of the matter, union minister for external affairs Jaswant Singh, on his part, promised the Lok Sabha that a committee will be set up to look into the Hajj tender. Earlier, AI had told the aviation ministry that they did not want to ferry the pilgrims as it ‘threw their schedule out of gear.’

Moreover, a case has also been filed against the CHC, AI and the civil aviation ministry for not providing proper facilities to pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia. The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTP) has issued notices to the trio following an application by GM Farooqi. A two-member MRTP bench, consisting of RL Sudhir and Sardar Ali, directed the respondents to submit a reply within two weeks. The court has asked the civil aviation ministry to file all the documents concerned to the tender of ferrying the Hajj pilgrims.
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