Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Amartya Sen only Bharat Ratna awardee to avail free air travel, flew 21 times in 4 years

New Delhi: The Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian award in India. Like the Padma awards, this too is not a title and cannot be used as prefix or suffix to names. But this brings a unique perk. All Bharat Ratna awardees are entitled to free lifetime air travel on Air India flights and that too in the highest class.

India Today filed a Right to Information (RTI) request with Air India to know when the central government decided to grant this perk to Bharat Ratna recipients, how many times this has been availed by the recipients and what is the monetary value of the perks availed. We also specifically asked about the number of times Nobel laureate and Bharat Ratna awardee Amartya Sen had availed this perk.

Responding to our first question, Air India said, "...the procedure for issuance of free tickets to Bharat Ratna awardees was circulated by erstwhile Indian Airlines on 25/08/2003." In 2003, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government was at the Centre.

The 2003 circular of Indian Airlines, which has been shared with India Today by Air India, gave the reason behind this decision, “The above decision has been taken as a mark of respect to the esteemed personalities for their highly acclaimed contribution in their respective fields. It is therefore, our endeavour to provide all assistance in facilitating their travel requirements."

The circular goes on to say that “applicable taxes and other levies will be borne by Indian Airlines” and “the tickets will be issued in Economy Class but will be upgraded to Executive Class”.

At the time, a report in The Times of India had mocked the government's decision, saying “Want to travel free? Get a Bharat Ratna”.

On Amartya Sen, Air India said the Nobel laureate has availed this facility 21 times from 2015 till 2019. The airlines said the monetary value of his travels could not be ascertained as the "fare prevailing on time and date of travel is not stored”.

The airlines also highlighted that Sen is the only Bharat Ratna awardee who has availed the benefit of this scheme.

For the record, 48 people have been awarded the Bharat Ratna to date and of them, 14 were posthumous awards. Out of the remaining 34, apart from Prof Amartya Sen, there are only three other Bharat Ratna awardees who are still alive -- Lata Mangeshkar (2001), Sachin Tendulkar (2014) and Professor C N R Rao (2014).

01/06/21 Ashok Upadhyay/India Today

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